This got me thinking, though, about how important specific gestures are to romantic scenes, whether they're "this romance is building" scenes or "this romance is about to explode into major smooches/sexytimes" scenes. One of my college professors said that a writer's job is to make the reader experience a familiar thing as if for the first time, and this is especially relevant during romance. Almost all people have experienced a kiss before, even if it's just from your Aunt Mildred or something, so we all know what it feels like, and it can be easy to feel disconnected from the word "kissed," or phrases like "their lips pressed together," just because they're so familiar. These phrases are so common as to be almost negligible, which means the reader's eyes might float right over them like they don't exist.
First, let's examine what some of these gestures...all from P&P adaptations, just for fun:
|(stills from here.)|
This is from a different P&P adaptation you might be familiar with...The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, which I started watching about halfway through the series. So yeah (spoiler alert?), they kiss, and it's epic, because we waited for it for 98 episodes, and so on. But what really sealed this as a great moment for me was what happened after the smooches...
...when she spends several prolonged moments playing with his tie. For some reason this felt more intimate to me than the liplock, suggesting a kind of ease with him now that they've declared themselves-- but not too much ease, because it's all still new. It's also unexpected-- I was waiting for the kiss, but obviously I didn't know to wait for this tie thing, because to my recollection, I've never seen that in a first-kiss scene before. It de-familiarized the kiss for me.
So, what do gestures like these do for your romantic scenes? To recap:
1. They make the scene feel new. Yes, I've probably seen all the examples I listed above before, or read them before, but not so frequently that I'm numb to them. If the gestures feel new, they get my attention and they make the scenes they're in stand out in my memory. This is a good thing.
2. They make a scene vivid. Obviously the examples I've given are live action, not on paper. But now that I think about it, I can still remember Ron and Hermione's hands clasped as they sleep in The Deathly Hallows, or when Gansey touches Blue's collarbone in The Raven Boys and tells her he just wants to pretend they could kiss, or half a dozen other stellar YA romance moments, because the scenes are vivid, because the gestures themselves are vivid.
The best of these gestures, to me, are specific, often a little weird (I mean, playing with a tie, touching a collarbone-- not your average romantic moment, right?), and often a little too soon (they happen before two people are quite comfortable with each other, or before they're sure of the other person's feelings). As someone who frequently overuses gestures in her writing, I think this is important to keep in mind-- gestures like these make an otherwise conventional scene stand out from the page, and somehow by surprising your reader you end up absorbing them more. Don't ask me how that works.
If you want, list your favorite "romantic gestures" in the comments! I'm sure we could all use some more examples...