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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Almost Kiss: Tips to Give it the Punch It Deserves

I've been catching up on some of my shows now that my parents are gone and my daughter has turned five. (Note to self: birthday parties at home are WAY too much work. Stick with venues where there is a built-in activity.)

This past week, two of my favorite shows had the near-kiss episode. Beauty & the Beast and New Girl. You don't have to be familiar with these shows to enjoy the concept of the almost-kiss. But there's something to be learned about the psychological effect the missed kiss serves for the reader.

If the almost-kiss is done right, the reader will feel cheated, and maybe even mad at you as the author.

So how do you do it in such a way that you make readers pant for the real deal? Here's this therapist's tips on how to do it "right."

1) Do not write the scene too soon in the novel. 

Probably the worse thing you can do is have the characters in the almost-kiss predicament before the reader is emotionally invested in them. They need to know each other, have been through a difficult situation or had some laughs or history together. Virtual strangers about to kiss each other is as exciting as two people you don't know needing to get a room in a restaurant.

Why the near-kiss between Jess and Nick on New Girl worked so well is that the audience was fully, 100% invested in the two of them eventually ending up together. We have been rooting for it since the pilot episode last year. Having this felt tension between the two characters guarantees a tension in the reader.

2) Make the stakes incredibly high for each of them.

If the stakes aren't high for both, then it won't be as powerful a near-kiss. Jess is dating another guy. Nick is trying to get with another girl, which was the sole reason why they were playing the drinking game in the first place which landed them in their predicament. Finally Jess, who is tired of being cooped up in the closet, tells Nick to just kiss her and get it over with. They comically begin the dance to do just that, when Nick blurts, "Not like this!" to Jess, meaning he didn't want their first kiss to be the result of a drinking game.

Folks, that amped the tension up by ramping the stakes. Now Jess knows that this kiss would mean something to Nick...which means something to her. I was practically hyperventilating in my seat, wondering if they would or not!

3) Be creative about the interruption.

We've all seen shows and read books where someone walks in the room suddenly, or the phone rings, or there's a knock at the door, causing the couple to jump apart. In most cases, this lessens the impact of the near-kiss, because the reader is rolling their eyes. How convenient, they murmur under their breaths. Beauty & the Beast featured Catherine's sister walking in on them at the most inopportune time, which still ticked me off, but I was thinking that was the biggest cliche.

This is your chance to really shock them good with something out of the ordinary. Give it some thought. What would make the reader gasp even louder than they were planning to gasp had the characters melded their lips together after all?

4) Do not have too many almost-kiss scenes before the real deal.

Less is more. Once is enough. You don't want to be seen as teasing your readers along. I really appreciated an interview I read where Liz Meriweather, the director of New Girl, explained why she had Jess and Nick do more than just near-kiss in season 2. (They kiss at the very end of the same episode.) "Keeping them apart, at this point, felt more fake then bringing them together for me."

Since film is different from books, she went on to say that just because they kissed doesn't mean they will have a relationship. In a book, however, a reader will roll their eyes just as much if you dangle the carrot in front of them too many times. They will eventually throw the book down and say, "Enough already!"

Let's Analyze

Did any of you see Beauty & the Beast or New Girl when the near-kiss scenes happened? What did you think? Any other suggestions you'd like to see me add to my list?

And don't can still answer my How Does That Make You Feel question from last week and be entered to win a free mini-assessment of your character!