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A Different Kind of Romantic Gesture

Recently, while discussing the Pride and Prejudice movie of 2005 (Keira Knightley-style), one YA Highwayer brought up this moment as one of her favorite almost-kiss moments ever (and I agreed):

I mean, come on. The silhouettes of their faces are showing up against THE RISING SUN. They're sharing air and they look pretty happy about it. It's beautiful, I don't care what version of Pride and Prejudice is your favorite.

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.)
Those stills are from the first time Darcy touches Elizabeth-- to help her up a step. This is early in their relationship, when she's not feeling particularly warm toward him and (from what I can recall) he's probably starting to like her, given what happens with his hand in that second panel. I remember watching this moment in the theater and getting a weird chill when their hands met, and another one when he stretches out his fingers afterward, like he can't believe he just touched her. That second moment was a little bit weird, unexpected-- it made the first moment more powerful, because it suggests an emotional impact as well as physical contact.

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...
Veronica Roth

Veronica is the author of the NYT bestselling YA dystopian thriller series Divergent, published by Harper Collins/Katherine Tegen Books. She's also a graduate of Northwestern University, a Christian, and A Tall Person, among other things.

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  1. I just watched Pride and Prejudice the other day. I love, love, love this movie and it's because, like you said, the subtle gestures placed perfectly through out the movie.

    One of my favorites scenes is when Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett are arguing in the rain and they almost kiss, but then don't. It's dramatic, romantic, and sexually-charged in an innocent way- love it!

    1. I read somewhere that when filming, the actors actually DID kiss in that scene. just because. they couldn't help it.

  2. I love the P&P examples! I love the BBC version, but honestly, I actually like the 2005 one better (my friend disagrees, but whatever). Great post! Sharing it on my blog

  3. I think fondling the tie is a very possessive - if not suggestive - moment so I'm sure it adds to the suspense very dramatically.
    With this possessiveness in mind, my favourite line, showing the subtlety of romance, is in Emma is when the title character says "Now, I need not call you Mr Knightley! I may call you my Mr Knightley."

  4. Yes! Everything you've said here, yes! (See what I did there? :P) I have to agree, when it comes to romance, the subtle touches (pun!) are the best. They are the stomach butterflies.

    And Pride and Prejudice? It's what I love about it. The touches. Just the thought of Mr. Darcy's hand doing that contracting thing makes me weak at the knees. YOU SHOULD WATCH LBD FROM THE START! In the videos where Darcy makes it in, he totally goes gooey over Lizzie. It's in the looks, it's beautiful really. And the fact that in the majority of P&P adaptions, they don't kiss.

    And it totally works. It's how I want to portray my romance in my WIP. The foundations of their relationship is basely loosed on Darcy & Lizzie, and it's that understatedness that I think shows love more than the throw up against the wall type of romance.

    If that makes any sense! :D

  5. The "hand" moment in P&P is one of my FAVS. Such a small simple gesture yet so powerful. <3

  6. Oh, Pride and Prejudice - so good. I especially love the hand gesture because not only was it Darcy and Elizabeth's first touch, but touch was so uncommon for anyone who was not related or already courting. Just the fact that he offered his hand and she took it was a big deal!

    I love, love, love the ending scene of North and South, the BBC one with Richard Armitage. Oh great day, that kiss is probably the most romantic I've ever seen. I'm not sure what it is that makes it stand out - the way he looks at her, the way she is stumbling over her words, the way he reaches out and grabs her hand, or the way she lifts his hand to kiss it before their lips ever touch - I'm not sure, but it is amazing. I could watch and re-watch it a thousand times and never lose a single butterfly from my stomach.

    I think I need to start watching the LBD, yes?

    Thanks for the advice - I'll have to pay more attention to these romantic gestures in my writing!

  7. This is great advice. I've always dreaded the romantic scenes that I have yet to write. I've never been good at it. But this is definitely some advice I will keep in mind.

  8. This was a great post! An editor I'm working with recently asked me to look for new and inventive ways to show my main characters are falling in love, so this came right on time.

  9. I loved that moment in P&P with his hand. I remember people actually gasping out loud when you see him stretch his hand after touching her.

    And I also noticed Lizzie playing with Darcy's tie after the kiss and I loved it! Great post!

  10. The description of the movie theatre scene in Anna and the French Kiss is one of the most accurate depictions of falling in love I have ever read. How aware Anna is of Étienne in that scene is just so *swoon*

  11. You say you "overuse" gestures, I think you actually use them really well. I remember the second time I read Divergent, and all the times Tobias touches Tris before they're together. I didn't notice it the first time, but the second time, I noticed it a lot. It kind of showed the reader that he liked her too. And you're books are awesome, by the way.


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Item Reviewed: A Different Kind of Romantic Gesture Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Veronica Roth