Grace A. Johnson
Romance Q&A Pt. 3: Kisses, Chemistry & Why I Write Romance
I don't know about y'all, but I am SO excited for this installment in my Romance Q&A series! Probably because I get to talk about some of my favorite things...kisses, chemistry, God-honoring romance, and more!
PLUS, if y'all read all the way through, you'll find an excerpt from Prisoner at Heart!
This post is jam-packed with goodness, so I won't keep y'all waiting any longer!
What's the book that got you into romance? (Both reading and writing.)
It was none other than The Golden Braid by Melanie Dickerson. My first foray out of middle-grade allegorical fantasy and apocalyptic fiction (yes, I used to read a ton of that, believe it or not) and into YA medieval romance.
After reading The Golden Braid, I devoured the rest of Melanie Dickerson’s books, and began scouring the shelves and Christian Book magazine for similar-looking/sounding titles. I soon found The Baron’s Daughter by Lynn Morris, and from then on, I became an avid reader of Christian romance–specifically historical romance.
It didn’t take long for me to want to create my own stories–and of course, they had to be historical romance! At the time, I was into fashion design, so instead of writing outlines, I would design my heroine and write a few details about her/her story off to the side! For the most part, those early stories stayed entirely in my head, and it wasn’t until several months down the road that I actually began writing them. I just couldn’t wait!
(Oh, and I copied this answer from my previous post, if that’s why it seems familiar. *winks*)
What's your favorite romance trope?
Oh, but if it’s an enemies-to-lovers marriage of convenience/arrangement, EVEN BETTER!
Who's your favorite ship in your own books?
Oof. That’s hard. Like…gosh. Are we just talking my published books or, like…all of them? Yikes.
Well…I do really like Kit and Chloe (from The Gift of Her Heart). I literally created them for the sole purpose of being able to ship them together. So, yeah.
I mean, I love Rina and Xavier (mainly Rina), and Crimson and Elliot (they are hilarious and so adorable together), and Keaton and Daisy…but I just…augh.
To be honest, I can’t tell y’all about some of my favorite couples, because y’all, uh, haven’t necessarily met them yet, and it’d be SO spoilerly.
Let’s just say…Book #4 will (hopefully) be a double romance.
OH. There is this one thing…
I won’t say. Y’all will think I’m crazy.
What's the hardest part about writing romance?
Dealing with naysayers. And that’s not even part of the actual writing. Mainly because the writing comes easy for me (and romance is the only thing I don’t overthink).
Anyway, putting it out there for others to read once I’ve written it is hard. There are a lot of people out there who just despise romance or simply don’t understand it, so dealing with readers like that is a huge challenge. I totally respect their opinions, but in some cases, it’s kind of like…why did you bother? If romance is your least favorite thing on the planet, why are you reading a romance? Or why waste your breath complaining anyway? Especially if they didn’t read the book but just want to throw their two cents in…just…why?
I dunno. I’m not good with negativity. I know that comes as a surprise, but seriously. I’d just rather people move on with their lives…
Anyway, just having the courage to put my love stories out there to begin with and to continue writing them is probably the hardest thing! Because I know they honor and glorify the Lord (at least, that’s my intention), and I know that’s what I’ve been called to write, and so I persevere…and I hope y’all will too!
What's the cringiest, most cliché book you've ever read?
As far as cliched goes, I don’t know…I typically handle cliches better than most readers–it’s really just unrealistic drama that bothers me.
But the cringiest? Oh, my gosh. HANDS-DOWN The Duchess and the Dragon and Pirate of My Heart by Jamie Carie.
Those two…they’re honestly disgusting in just how badly the romance is written and how toxic and disturbing some aspects are. And I rarely ever acknowledge anything as toxic, so there’s that.
What's your best tip for writing God-honoring, realistic romance?
Waaaiiiit a minute. Only one tip? GOOD GOSH GIRL! I have to boil an entire art form down to ONE TIP?
Seriously, though, my best non-technical tip is to pray, seek the Lord, and study Scripture. Think of crafting your romance story like actually living out your real-life romance, and put as much care, consideration, and prayer into it. From using friends and family as examples to talking to people in relationships to applying God’s Word, prepare yourself to write your love story just as you would living it! Not only will that, of course, help you grow as a person, it will also make your story that much more meaningful, authentic, and powerful!
Technically speaking…be bold, be balanced, and be authentic. (Yes, these are points from an article all about realistic Christian romance, which you can read HERE.) Be bold and passionate about the romance and the faith elements—don’t shy away from things out of fear that will really enhance your story and make it more impactful! Balance the spiritual content and romantic content in a way that is natural and healthy. And authentically portray faith journeys and romantic relationships!
Why do you write romance?
In part because I absolutely adore it and can’t imagine not writing it! I’ve always loved romance and princesses and fairytales and all the lovely fluff that comes with it, and as I’ve grown and matured, I have come to see that I still do love those girlish elements…and the soul-deep relationship romance is, the beautiful feelings God has given us, the amazing journey He takes us on, and the glorious blessings romance and marriage are.
Because romance in real life means so much to me, how could I ever leave it out of what I write? And so I do write romance because I love it, because it’s beautiful and lovely and deserves to be treated and portrayed how God created it, and because it’s simply fun to cultivate those fictional relationships with all their facets and flaws and lead two characters in a dance of love!
On a deeper level, I write Christian romance because there is no such thing as romance apart from God. I’m serious. I’ve tried reading those clean, sweet romances that have absolutely no Christian/spiritual/faith content in them…and it’s just not the same. There is no love or passion or commitment or selflessness–it’s all platitudes, superficial emotions and attraction, with no real substances. Not to mention, what’s the point of cleanliness without our God-established morals? Even if you’re going the subtle route, you must acknowledge the existence and impact of God.
I also write romance because,, as my friend H. S. Kylian said, “I get so tired of people saying it’s ‘refreshing’ when a book they read has no romance or when they brush it off as ‘fluff’ – I’m like, ‘We live in a fallen world where sin has distorted romance, marriage, and sex, and you want to call it ‘refreshing’ when a book doesn’t have romance???’ If anything, we need more romance, not less…” And so I’m committed to creating romances that promote traditional relationships, that emphasize purity over pleasure, and reflect Christ’s love for His church, even when the world wants to write it off as outdated and Christians want to eschew it.
What are your least favorite romantic tropes and why?
Ah, least favorites! Let’s see…to be honest, it’s less about the trope itself and more about how it’s handled. For example, one of my favorites is marriage of convenience/arrangement–however, very, very few novels I’ve read have actually written it well!
So while these tropes may be my least favorite in terms of their structure, they can and have been written exceedingly well!
Forbidden love. Mainly because it’s centered around marital affairs, and even if it’s not, it’s still disrespectful. That said, you can include forbidden love vibes in a story and make it very intense, emotional, and poignant…or you can write a forbidden love romance that’s actually handled tastefully–there just aren’t many of them.
Secret identity. Now, if the character is a spy or superhero, bring it on. Otherwise? It’s just too much drama and whining for me. *sighs*
Secret baby. I just…if you want to be biblical about it, please. I’ll read it all day long. But if you’re just throwing in secret pregnancies and premarital sex for the heck of it, you can hit the road, Jack.
Second chance. I have read a couple I adored…but for the most part? This trope bores me! I guess because I’ve already missed the blossoming of their romance and all the firsts in their relationship. It’s just sad.
Have you read a Christian romance that went too far for you?
...No. At least, not that I can remember. In terms of content, what bothers me the most is not necessarily the detail, but the context! Like, you can have a closed-door, fade-to-black romance that’s cleaner than a whistle…but if the characters aren’t doing things God’s way, forget about it. And when Christian authors condone (or at least don’t shine a negative light on) things like impurity and premarital sex, I’m liable to put it down right then. (Unless I have to review it, in which case, prepare for a low rating, buttercup.)
That said, I’ve never even heard of a Christian book with a full-blown sex scene (again…not that I can remember), and there are ways to include it without being gratuitous.
How do you define romance (aka is secular "romance", romance)?
Firstly, secular “romance” is absolutely not romance. The world wants to capitalize on hormones and fleshly desires by marketing a night of pleasure as romance. Even worse, it wants to prey on our God-given desire to be loved and treasured by convincing us that whatever Tom, Dick, or Harry who gives us the time of day will provide those things.
Only God can fully satisfy us, and it is through Him that a romantic relationship can bring joy and be full of love. It’s only those who truly seek after Him who can love, treasure, and sacrifice for their loved ones.
When it all boils down to it, love and romance are two different things. Romance comes from love, but love is not romance, if that makes sense. Love is a choice, romance is an experience. Therefore, that experience looks different for everyone–and for some, it’s expensive dinners and nights out dancing. For some, it’s quiet evenings by the fire with a cup of cocoa.
However you experience romance, however you show love to others and they respond in turn, the true heart and meaning of romance stays the same, and that’s a soul-deep feeling, one that builds and uplifts rather than leaves people feeling empty and dry.
I honestly recommend reading Song of Solomon to get an idea of what true, God-given romance is supposed to look like! It is, in part, physical attraction and appreciation and kisses and whatnot…but it’s also that intense and pure desire for another person–a desire that God has given us for the purpose of reflecting His love for us and, of course, procreation. *winks*
What is your answer for those who say romance novels only set you up for disappointment?
#1: You are responsible for your expectations. Not a book or movie or TV show. Not your mother, grandmother, or best friend. If you use romance novels–which are fictional, by the way–as a basis for how your life should go, that’s on you. Not the book, author, or genre. And that’s a mentality that needs correcting, a mentality that can apply to ANYTHING–not just a romance novel.
#2: You’re not supposed to settle anyway. It’s not a bad thing to have high hopes or want a man who treats you right, and if that’s what’s included in the books you read and that’s what you hope for and expect for yourself, then that’s okay. In fact, keep reading those books! You shouldn’t assume that just because you live in the real world, you’ll have to settle for a toxic or passionless relationship. After all, when you delight yourself in the Lord, He will give you the desires of your heart. He will give you a desire for a loving spouse and good, God-honoring marriage…and then He’ll deliver!
#3: Instead of setting expectations, set standards. So many people refuse to see the importance of romance novels, stating that it’s porn or disappointing or distracting or whatever. But there is a positive to every negative, and one of the positives of romance is that it can help you define your standards.
For example, a lot of people bash having crushes. But guess what? Even though I may have “wasted” time or “given my heart away” to guys who never noticed me, I grew in leaps and bounds through every crush. Had I not crushed on this one guy when I was 12, I never would have realized that what I truly desire and seek in a man is one who’s sold out for God and lives for Him.
So rather than getting caught up in expectations and hopes, use that as a moment to reflect and pray, to consider what you want in a spouse/relationship. Romance novels should be examples for us of either what to do or what not to do–so look at it like that!
What are your secrets for writing kissing scenes?
AHHHH FINALLY THIS QUESTION!!! I AM IN ROMANCE HEAVEN NOW!!!
Bless you, Saraina.
SO. As far as writing kiss scenes goes, everyone’s idea of how it should transpire differs. Some people prefer cut-and-dry “They kissed” scenes, while other authors will go on for three pages just describing the kiss. (Not in an icky way, of course.)
And some authors prefer to focus on the emotional/mental aspects (what the character think/feel), while others stick to describing their actual actions.
Me? I like all of it. Seriously. There’s a time and a place for each aspect, and knowing what goes where is really the first step to writing an epic kiss scene.
For example, cut-and-dry kisses work great for (1) super short pecks and (2) the eighteenth kiss in the book. Naturally, I don’t like it when authors repeat actions/scenes in a book, but sometimes it’s unavoidable, so sticking to a “He kissed her” instead of describing how he kissed her seven times is great.
That said, the first kiss, last kiss, kiss-in-which-they-both-respond, I-love-you kiss, basically any kiss that has a purpose/meaning should be described. Be as subtle or detailed as you like, but don’t let the readers miss out on this very important milestone!
On that note, the second step is giving each kiss a purpose. This has taken me a while (*coughs* three novels) to learn, but fortunately, I can look back and see how each kiss in my romances has a purpose. Maybe it’s something silly, like to get the love interest to stop rambling, or something truly meaningful, like to seal their engagement–either way, don’t just throw a kiss in “because.” Be intentional and purposeful about it! That way, your readers will have a deeper experience, AND it’ll be easier for you to write your characters’ reactions!
Lastly, find your balance. I personally prefer half physical, half emotional for my kiss scenes, which is really giving everyone the best of both worlds, but it’s up to you to find your own balance in how you write kiss scenes!
For an even better example, I’mma share one of my absolute FAVORITE kiss scenes, from Prisoner at Heart. This one isn’t my favorite because it’s super passionate or playful or unique or any of that (all those kisses are in The Gift of Her Heart, my most romantic and comedic and favorite work to date *winks*)...but because it’s purposeful, meaningful, balanced, emotional, and perfectly timed.
Basically, this moment (again, one of my favorites) is when Crimson and Elliot, my heroine and hero, finally let their guards down and bond over shared loss and pain. They begin to see each other in a better, more selfless light, and then they’re able to share more…like something beautiful and new and full of hope!
(Note: this excerpt is really long. Why? Because I love this scene, and you need all this to fully understand the poignancy of this moment.)
(Another note: the first part is from Elliot’s POV and the second part is Crimson’s.)
She expelled a breath, her tight muscles loosening. “So now you know,” she said, her voice still in the sweet British accent of hers that she’d been hiding beneath that rough tone, only reminding me of how little I knew of her.
For so long, Crimson Wilde had been a name no better than a curse. A girl you’d want to avoid, a threat, an enemy. A reminder of the pain inflicted upon Rina and myself. But now...the more I was around her, the more I learned about her, the more I realized that she wasn’t just another Wilde, cold-hearted and cruel. She was a beautiful girl who hurt, who had pain of her own, memories that haunted her.
She was more than just a name. She was a face with eyes deeper than the ocean. She was wrists that had been scarred. She was a mother without her child. She was a heart that had been broken.
“Elliot, will you please say something?” He was being quiet, too quiet. Just staring at me, mouth turned down in a frown, eyes half-closed, focused below my nose. On my lips? Heavens, I hoped not. I had just revealed my deepest, darkest secret, and the last thing he should be thinking about was kissing me.
“You’re scaring me, old man.” Because the chill that was creeping up my spine was not one of pleasure. And because it was not our close proximity that had my heart beating at one hundred miles an hour.
All right, all right. Not true. But surely one was entitled to a lie or two every once in a while, aye?
I set my finger beneath his chin, forced him to look in my eyes. He did, settled his hand on my cheek again, putting my every sense on high alert, stoking my blood and warming my skin. Why, oh why, did he have to affect me this way? And especially when I was leaving!
“I’m so sorry, Crimson.” His voice was painfully sincere, but instead of making me feel better, easing the pain, it only fanned a flame that I’d thought long burned-out.
“I didn’t tell you for pity, Mr. Fulton,” I growled, struggling against his hold. Pity was the last thing I wanted, exactly what I didn’t need. What everyone gave, no matter the problem. Which was why I preferred to keep my problems to myself.
Elliot didn’t release me. In fact, I could’ve sworn he held me tighter. “I didn’t mean it that way, little Wilde. I meant that I’m sorry for treatin’ you like just that, like you’re nothin’ but a Wilde. I’m sorry for what happened to you, yes. But mostly, I’m sorry for bein’ so fed up with myself an’ my anger that I didn’t notice that other people hurt too.”
He was apologizing for the way he’d treated me. For being blind to things not there for him to see. Wow. Rina must’ve really gotten to him. Because no one I’d ever met would ever be so...so apologetically sweet. Which didn’t make sense to even me, but I had made my point.
Elliot Fulton wasn’t like Jonas. Like Da, Randal, any other man in my life. He felt. He cared. He understood.
“But no one asked you to notice. And I-I didn’t ask for you to be sorry. You don’t have to apologize. I don’t...don’t really care,” I told him, shaking my head against his hand.
He smiled just a little, his mouth barely visible beneath his beard. He really needed a shave, but that, I supposed, was a conversation for another day.
“Y’know y’do. Ye care about a lot of things. About yer siblings, about Ellie. An’, though ye’d ne’er admit it, ye care about bearded ole bears like me.” He tweaked my nose just like he did with Leo, his grin a bit wider.
Who knew he could be so perceptive?
I suppressed a laugh, a sob, a curse—whatever was trying to barge past my lips. And took a step back even though I really didn’t want to. “I never said anything about you being old. Just bearded.”
He raised a thick brow. “So ye be meanin’ I ain’t old? What a compliment, especially comin’ from you.” Then he lifted a finger into the air, raised his other eyebrow. “An’ ye’re not denyin’ it!”
Now he was the one that didn’t make sense. “Denying what?”
“That you care”— he drew me closer, his arm around my waist, his hand on my hip—“about me.” He leaned in until our noses brushed, until the air I breathed in was the same he breathed out. Until there was no escape.
Even if I wanted to.
But I needed to.
“Elliot, you know—”
His mouth cut my words off. His left hand trailed up my arm, leaving tingles on my skin, moving up my shoulder and to the back of my neck. Tilted my head back, tangled his fingers in my curls. Parted my lips, blurred the lines between want and need, between reality and dream, between the warning bells and the thrum of my pulse.
My muscles ached, tightened with the gnawing pain of a long-ignored hunger. My fingers clenched into fists, balling up the fabric of his shirt in my hands. I had to let go. Needed to. So badly.
Because I was leaving. And it was for the best. And if I let this go too far, I’d regret it.
But then my back arched. All resistance fled, succumbed to the heady sensations his touch induced. My fingers loosened, climbed up his chest, over his shoulders. My mouth moved against his, melting into him. Then there were no bells. No thoughts. No oughts and needs and should’ves. Only Elliot. Only me.
Only us. Now.
And nothing else mattered.
What do most romances get wrong/what is the biggest flaw you see in most romance books?
Hmm…well, there are the technical things. Unintentionality, repetition, lack of detail, lack of chemistry between the hero and heroine, lack of emotional connection, pure lack of likeable characters/shippable relationships. I mean, some romances just shouldn’t. be. romances. I would literally rather read a book with no romance at all than read a poorly-done romance.
But when it boils down to it (that’s the second time I’ve said that, isn’t it?), the main flaw is that people simply don’t understand what romance is anymore. Authors included.
Not only do people misdefine romance in reality as being a dating relationship that ticks all the boxes or hot and heavy sex, authors have gotten it into their heads that romance is a genre. A style. A category.
BUT IT’S NOT. I literally cannot stress this point enough.
Romance is a relationship, for crying out loud! And when you really understand that and write accordingly, your story won’t be cheesy or boring or unrealistic or cliched or icky. It’ll be real.
And I actually DID write a post about this, and you can read it HERE!
Any tricks for writing chemistry between the hero and heroine?
YES YES YES!!! I actually have plans on writing a full-blown post about this, so I’ll keep this answer short.
Chemistry is all about how your characters interact with each other. Period. It’s literally that simple. When your characters can clash and cooperate, you’ve got chemistry. They hit each other and explode, but in that process, they’ve come together to make something better than themselves alone. (Dude, that was profound.)
For example, Keaton and Julius have some of the best chemistry in my books…and they’re certainly not my hero and heroine! But the fact that their personalities are so different (Keaton’s grumpy and quiet; Julius is like an annoying puppy dog) and yet they’re forced to work together makes their bromance-in-progress so much fun! Keaton is annoyed by Jules and disagrees with him 99% of the time; Julius is unnerved by Keaton and intentionally does things to bug him. But they’re better together–stronger, more well-rounded, building each other up, etc. They still have their witty arguments and comedic banter, but they also contribute to the story in a wonderful way.
Do the same with your hero and heroine. They’re like two superheroes with entirely different powers and motives, both fighting for the same thing–which is basically a romantic relationship. Give them contrasting personalities and similarities that can unite them. Give them moments in which they disagree and moments in which they stand together. In the end, they’ll overcome their differences to be stronger together–to be one.
How to go about that? Glad you asked! I’ve got a couple ideas here you might wanna try out!
Pay attention to your characters’ differences and commonalities, even if that means making a Venn Diagram.
Have fun with comedic situations, funny encounters, banter, and arguments—you can cut out what’s fluff later and keep what contributes to development!
Learn about romance tropes and figure out which one(s) fit your characters—that’ll help guide the direction of their romance and give you examples to refer back to.
Develop your characters’ relationship/background without their romance—whether that’s in an outline, prologue/prequel, or through backstory.
Take a few scenes to just enhance their relationship, through conversations, collaboration, and more, without throwing in kisses and mushy speeches. *winks*
Y'all don't tell me I'm the only one who loves Crimson and Elliot. *sighs* Y'all are gonna LOVE their scenes (however few they are) in Bound and Determined, and - OH!
What's this I hear?
*turns aside* Yes. Mmhmm. I see.
*turns back to the crowd* I've just received word that ONE lucky commenter will receive a special sneak peek of Crimson and Elliot from BAD! All you have to do for a chance to win is let me know who your favorite ship from my books is! (Bonus points if it's a ship I haven't even shipped yet...if that makes sense!)
And if y'all have anymore questions, the form is still open, and any questions in the comments will count toward my next Q&A post!
Missed my last posts? No problem! You can read them here and here!
yours in spirit and script,
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