I take a lot of craft classes on writing hoping to get some insight into what makes a story jump off the page and resonate with readers. Last year my local RWA chapter, Southern Magic, had two presenters talk about the twelve steps to intimacy. It outlined the steps as per a previous talk by Linda Howard based on the zoological writings of Desmond Morris. (If you’d like a great breakdown of the steps, Terry Odell’s blog has that here.)
The significance of this intimate progression was brought home to me recently in the short film FIRST KISS by Tatia PIlieva. In it, twenty strangers are asked to kiss. It’s sort of like a crash course in creating an intimate connection.
Per the steps of intimacy you see the subjects:
- Look each other over. They are all unknown to one another and each participant mentally sizes up their assigned partner–Step One: Eye to Body contact
- Then their eyes lock and they spend a few moments just staring. A woman in one couple asks her partner just to wait and look at her for a few moments while they get ready to kiss–Step Two: Eye to Eye contact
- The participants talk and joke, ask each other’s names, ask the filmmaker if they’re rolling, compliment each other. This talking is another attempt to make themselves familiar to the other person, to establish a rapport that’s not there yet–Step Three: Voice to Voice contact
- One man offers his hand and formally shakes the hand of his partner by way of introduction. All of the participants are unsure what to do with their hands as they get ready for the kiss because in most relationships, hand-holding usually precedes the first kiss–Step Four: Hand to Hand contact
- And then one of the partners leans in, arm lifting to the shoulder to pull the other person close for that first touch of lips–Step Five: Arm to Shoulder contact
- Quickly you see fingers tentatively hovering at their partner’s waist, sliding around to their partner’s back, bodies inching into the personal space of the shy partner–Step Six: Arm to Waist Or Back contact
- And then finally as the tension increases, that first touch of mouths. Some of the participants barely peck, others sink into passion. Some of the strangers pull back from the intimacy, others rush forward and meet together happily–Step Seven: Mouth to Mouth contact
- Quickly the caress escalates and you see one participant cup the cheek of their partner, move their head just so and their lips fit together more perfectly–Step Eight: Hand to Head contact
- This is followed by hands clutching at the waist of their partner, arms encircling them completely. Hands run up and down the back, pull in their shoulders, try to hold onto the intimacy for just one more moment–Step Nine: Hand to Body contact
Step Nine is the last step that can be covered in an awkward social study of first kisses. Steps Ten through Twelve cover the touching of breasts and genitals with a culmination in sex. So in this film, the steps end with number nine.
But the film is a great teaching tool for writers. It shows in all it’s awkwardness, shyness, and humor, the way people react intimately to each other. It’s so sweet and so human what you see in this film. They are all shy about intimacy, some touching hands first or just staring at one another. But they all move in for that touch of lips and their fingers clutch each other close. And after the kiss, it’s as if their bodies no longer know how to stand without the other person. They hug, giggle, and reluctantly pull away.
I learn a lot from my craft classes on writing but I sometimes forget that the best lessons are the ones I can see around me, within the people that surround us all. I think Tatia PIlieva’s film FIRST KISS is a stunning example of both the documentary nature of film and the ability of art to help us view and appreciate our humanity.