• Writing 101: How to Write Your First Make-Out Scene (In 9 Easy Steps)

    by  • April 15, 2012 • Writing, You are probably sorry you asked • 4 Comments

    In over ten years’ worth of novels, I have written maybe three kissing scenes. (I’ve written more for plays, but that’s kinda cheating, because you just write, “They completely devour each other’s faces with tongue and everything for, like, ten minutes!” and then the actors have to do it. Ha ha ha!) All three were pretty chaste, like the kind on adorable greeting cards of babies kissing each other that are cute because they’re babies and don’t know any other way to be.

    That’s because until relatively recently, I found reading anything more overtly sexual than a chaste kissing scene to be uncomfortable. Ears burning, flip through the pages until it’s finally over, that kind of thing. Also, even after that relatively recent change of heart, I learned it’s extremely easy to write awful kissing scenes. (And they say fanfiction isn’t educational!)

    But then somehow I found myself writing not just kissing but a full-on make-out scene into one of the stories I’m working on.

    Admittedly, it’s a pretty 14A/T scene. Nobody’s clothes are coming off. Both characters have ulterior motives that have nothing to do with any feelings for one another, and because of that, the narration is somewhat removed from the action, so to speak.

    But I wanted to write it for a couple reasons. First, while I was reading someone else’s story, their portrayal of some issues* a female character had to deal with gave me a little insight into one of my own characters, and I wanted to be true to my better understanding of her. Second, it made the story more dynamic, in the same way that it makes a story more dynamic to have your action hero(ine) and the evil henchperson have a fistfight instead of standing there yelling at each other for five minutes.

    I don’t know whether I’ll still feel like it’s necessary at the end of the revision process. But right now, I’m happy with the tone I struck. And believe me, the damn story sat on my computer for months and months before I finally got myself to put the make-out stuff on virtual paper.

    So, in case you’re in the same position as me — or perhaps are just wondering how I managed it in the end — I present for your edification:

    How to Write Your First Make-Out Scene

    ~in 9 easy steps~

    Step 1: Don’t.

    Why do you want to write a make-out scene? Psssh, the story’s fine without it. Sexuality is over-rated — and besides, it’s everywhere these days. It would be more original to have a story where nobody touches anyone, ever, am I right? I bet your characters just want to hold hands and gaze into each other’s eyes. That would probably be more meaningful. Also easier to write.

    Step 2: Just don’t.

    Okay, fine, your characters are hoping to take this a bit further. And maybe nothing short of a major plot twist like, oh, an asteroid crashing between them (or a bee sting infected with alien black oil virus) is going to keep their lips and hands off one another. But that’s your duty as a writer!  This story does skew to the older end of YA, or maybe even adult, but: you are a 24/7 school dance chaperone for fictional characters! Fire up those asteroid cannons!

    Step 3: What about ellipses?

    Can we still do that?

    And as the sirens blared, we leaned in closer until our lips met.

                             *                           *                         *

    ‘Wow,’ I said, three hours later. ‘That sure was some fun making out we did three hours ago. But right now, we’re in the middle of an action scene!’ POW POW BLAM KABOOM!

    Step 4: Accept that your story needs this scene.

    *sigh* My story needs this scene.

    Step 5: Aaaaaaagh!


    Step 6: Worry you’re doing it wrong

    What if the scene is too explicit for your target audience? What if it’s not explicit enough? What if you accidentally write about something and for some reason you are the only person in the world who thinks it’s attractive and then everyone’s like, “This make-out scene’s so gross!” and then you’re like, Huh?, and then everyone’s all like, “Actually, YOU are gross and we’re going to laugh at you FOREVER and you fail at sexy!”? Oh my god, what if you have to type the word “sexy”????

    Step 7: Invent pre-emptive excuses

    “What’s that you asked? Why did I write about my character doing that weird thing when she…? Oh, uh, ha ha! That was the whole point of the scene. That my character is a freak. Which is what I was going for. She’s a weirdo. Who doesn’t know how to make out properly. Ha ha. Did I say freak already? Because that’s what she is. IN A TOTALLY INTENTIONAL FASHION THAT DOES NOT AT ALL REFLECT ANY PREFERENCE OR EXPERIENCES OF THE AUTHOR.”

    Step 8: Write the damn scene.

    As it turns out, the word “sexy” didn’t have to appear even once.

    Step 9: Then write a blog entry about it.


    * Specifically, if you’re interested, the writer showed how this character dealt with the experience of being slut-shamed. How it influenced my writing is a whole ‘nother blog entry, but basically, it made me think very carefully about how I was going to portray female sexuality in my story.

    One of my female protagonists does not have the capacity for intimacy, emotional or physical, necessary to be comfortable expressing her sexuality. That being the case, I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t making my female protagonists across-the-board indifferent toward or suppressive of their own sexual feelings and accidentally saying something about the kind of woman who “deserves” to be a main character in a story.

    More importantly — especially because I’m still not sure I achieved my above goal — reading this other story made me realize that I was limiting who my main characters could be because I wasn’t comfortable writing about characters with more sexual experience than me. Which was stupid, because I write all the time about characters with more experience than me in all sorts of things. Why not sex? So I spent a long time considering what sort of person this other character was and what decisions she might have made in her life before getting to this point.

    Oops, I guess this kind of already turned into a whole ‘nother blog entry. Sorry.


    I write SFF, young adult, and middle grade fiction, and I've been known to knock off a play here and there. I'm represented by Bridget Smith of Dunham Literary, Inc. Stick around - who knows what might happen?


    4 Responses to Writing 101: How to Write Your First Make-Out Scene (In 9 Easy Steps)

    1. April 15, 2012 at 1:38 am

      Great post, SR! I also have a hard time writing kissing scenes (although after two kids, it’s clearly not because of a lack of experience). I know how it’s supposed to be in a story, all romantic, but it’s different in real life. There’s less heart racing and more “Why does he have to slobber so much?” But you can’t put that into a story unless you’re writing a comedy. I find stepping outside the characters and just stating the facts (“They kissed”) generally works better than all the cliches.

      And, of course, I can always write comedy.

      • April 16, 2012 at 11:28 am

        Thanks, Shevi :) Hope you and your family had a great Pesach.

    2. Eleanor Crowder
      April 16, 2012 at 11:27 pm

      Hello Sarah. I thoroughly enjoyed this. I was looking for you to invite you to a play with a kissing scene in it.
      I read your linked In page and think you are probably in Toronto. But maybe…just maybe … you’re in Ottawa April 21,22, or 25.
      Momma’s Boy is me writing for adults. Well and teens and twenties and older.
      This is the full length version staged as I mean it to be, following an experiment with a shorter version at Fringe last year.
      I am acting in it with Anna Lewis and Will Somers. If you happen to be in Ottawa , I’d love to show you and have your reaction.
      http://www.bearandcompany.ca for venues and times. We are calling this tour our Intimacy Experiment, trying the show out in little and off beat spaces.

      • April 17, 2012 at 9:12 pm

        Thanks, Eleanor! Congratulations on the production of Momma’s Boy. Unfortunately, I am in Toronto at the moment, but my best wishes are with you and the show! Hope all’s well with you and yours, and break a leg. :)

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