Pulling off the perfect first kiss is a key part of the romance genre. Is it going to be steamy, sweet, awkward, adorable? Will it be heat-of-the-moment, or slow and planned? Will you, the author, have any say in the matter? I know sometimes I don’t!
But what makes a first kiss a great first kiss? For me, it’s all about the chemistry, and the build-up. While I love a slow-burn, it’s possible to get both of these things right from the start. I recently read Chesney Infalt’s “Heart of the Sea” and was ready for them to kiss from page 1! In the hands of a good author, a kiss in the first chapter can feel special and earned.
What’s key to that feeling is the relationship between the two characters. You have to feel that connection. For some couples, it’s going to take ages to build. For others, when you meet them, they’ve already known each other for years, and you feel that connection.
A big fan of showing over telling, it’s absolutely pivotal that you don’t say anything like, ‘we have a connection’ or ‘they fell in love when they were fourteen’. Instead, opt for phrases like, ‘his heart quivered in his chest as she approached. For the life of him, he couldn’t remember when that feeling had begun, only that for years now, wherever he was near her, he felt an equal amount of giddiness and dread.’
This tells the reader everything they need to know without beating them over the head, and the mention of physical reactions helps the reader to experience that emotion alongside the character.
I’ve spoken a great deal about the importance of planning, but lately in my writing, I’ve stopped planning when exactly the first kiss takes place. When I write out the order of events, I merely make a note of at which point the first kiss has to have happened. In Thief of Spring, Of Snow and Scarlet, and Song of Sea and Shore, the first kiss has been a surprise to me as much as the readers! I let the relationship develop organically, and let the characters tell me when they’re ready.
In my opinion, the first kiss in a traditional romance needs to happen after:
The characters have shared a secret
There has been at least one moment where the characters are shown to be safe/relaxed around each other
A bit of flirting/light banter/teasing (or a lot, I love this trope!)
A moment of sweetness/physical affection—a hug, kiss on the cheek, holding hands
A little bit of tension—an argument, a problem or obstacle to overcome, or even simply not acting on their feelings before. Let us feel they’ve earned it!
Bonus points for: near/interrupted kiss. I love those! Boy, do they amp up the tension!
Of course, it’s possible to axe some of these with a pre-existing relationship. In that case, all we need to see is a bit of banter, the idea of closeness/safeness, and a degree of sexual tension; a blush, a nervous fidget, a scratching of the neck, avoiding eye contact etc. You know you love it!
Carrying on from this, I’ve decided to rank my top ten favourite first kisses! I’m including side couples here, but not couples whose first kiss we never see—sorry Garnet and Onyx!
Spoilers for my books below, stop reading here if you don’t want that!
My top ten favourite first kisses, best first:
1. Rose and Thorn:
My first book baby is always going to hold a special place in my heart, and this is a pretty epic kiss. It doesn’t occur until the end of the story because he’s a beast for most of it, which causes a huge amount of tension as Rose wants him, but there are obviously physical limitations to their relationship, leaving her to deny her feelings for him for months and placing both of them in agony. After thinking him dead, Rose finally confesses her love, and is amazed when he transforms into a human… kissing him before he can even explain what has happened. “I probably owe you an explanation,” he says. “It can wait,” she returns, and promptly kisses him again. Having spent the entire book denying her feelings for him, it’s beyond time.
2. Hades and Persephone:
Technically these two have their first kiss in chapter 2 when Hades kisses Persephone in order to force her to imbibe his sacred wine so he can save her from being offered as a sacrifice, but we don’t want to talk about that! Because their first kiss was so forceful, Hades keeps his distance from Persephone and allows her to make the next move… despite many, many other opportunities. It isn’t until she thinks he might be dying that she plucks up the courage. I don’t know about you, but I adore the I-thought-you-were-dying kiss, especially as what happens after they recover is completely up in the air. Do they pretend it was a heat-of-the-moment kiss, or commit? Ooh, the tension!
3. Beau and Asami:
This is my newest couple, the disfigured former soldier and the scientist bent on helping him, in a steampunk/sci-fi version of the classic Beauty and the Beast. They have a kiss-in-the-rain scenario, with banter, height jokes, and music. It’s completely swoon-worthy and utterly deserved.
4. Eirwen and Cole:
This Snow White and her somewhat charming prince were briefly stepsiblings a long time ago… and when they meet again years later, there’s a bit of an enemies-to-lovers vibe… even if Cole flirts with her outrageously! This is probably my steamiest kiss… literally, as it happens in a hot spring. Cole suggests playing a game of questions, whereby the couple slowly admit their growing attraction. He utters the line, “I’d like to kiss you now. I really, really want to kiss you. More than I ever think I’ve ever wanted to kiss anyone.” Eirwen says, “Do it, then,” half-expecting he won’t. He does.
Consent is sexy, folks.
5. Andie and Finn:
A truly ‘organic’ couple, human Andie and werewolf Finn actually get together sooner than any of my other couples, but are kept apart by external factors. The two share a brief accidental kiss when saying goodbye, but finally have a chance to properly commit to the action not long after when Finn saves her from freezing under the ice. It’s sweet and passionate and despite happening about 60% into the novel’s runtime, it still feels overdue!
6. Nick and Ashe:
Ashe is a genetically engineered badass who has no time for falling in love. Nick is the rebel fighter who becomes instantly smitten with her. Slowly, Ashe opens her heart to Nick, but it’s a long time before she finally takes the plunge in the middle of an argument and kisses him. It’s a defining moment for her as a character, being willing to put herself on the line emotionally. Nick, meanwhile, is just stunned.
7. Hans and Greta:
Hans and Greta are two side characters in my Little Mermaid retelling. Hans is a huge hunk of walking muscle. Greta is a small, deaf librarian who is very intelligent. He’s been trying to get her attention for years, learning sign language and reading books to impress her. He finally takes the plunge during a siege on the castle, where he comes to rescue her and confesses his affections very bluntly, admitting that he’s never going to be a great reader but he’ll quite happily watch her disappear into a book for the rest of their lives. Greta, finally realising the truth about how he feels, responds by kissing him.
8. Neri and Kai:
Childhood friends, mermaid Neri and human prince Kai are drawn to one another as young adults… even if the latter can’t quite remember her. When Kai is injured and losing consciousness, and Neri unable to call out to him, she kisses him to try and keep him awake. I love a good ‘whump kiss’ and this is no exception!
9. Scarlet and Mi: Mi is a blind super-soldier with a heart of pure gold. Scarlet is a sassy rebel fighter. Their romance is largely told in a spin-off story at the end of book 2, where Scarlet takes him out on a date, they run home in the rain, and she finally demands to know why he hasn’t kissed her yet. He’s very inexperienced, but Scarlet soon shows him the ropes...
10. Talia and Leo:
Talia appears to be no more than a humble forest guide, and Leo a sweet prince on his way to rescue a princess. They aren’t supposed to fall in love, and yet…
This kiss really surprised me. Initially, Talia and Leo weren't supposed to kiss until he woke her in the tower, as there was the possibility that kissing her astral form could have deadly consequences. However, when Leo pushes himself too far, she impulsively kisses him, proving to him that he means more to her than her own life. It’s a short, sweet, tender moment, as Talia still can’t feel him. She makes up for that when she’s finally reunited with her body. I’m only placing it at the bottom of the list for the brevity and because she can’t feel it.
What’s your favourite first kiss, either from something you’ve read or written? I’d love to hear!
Chesney Infalt’s gender-swapped Little Mermaid retelling, with the adorable Caspian and Sabine, is available to preorder at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B097KBTMNX. A perfect example of the friends-to-lovers romance!
Many thanks to Rebecca F. Kenney, L.V Russell, Elisa Bugg, Alice Gregory and Chesney Infalt for their contributions to this post.