Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Meet-Cute

Now that you've selected the perfect yin to your character's yang, it's time to have them get acquainted. The first time I heard the phrase meet-cute was in the romantic comedy The Holiday.  Arthur's explanation is similar to what I found on Wikipedia:

A meet-cute is a scene in film, television, etc, in which a future romantic couple meets for the first time in a way that is considered adorable, entertaining, or amusing.
The Holiday itself is packed with meet-cutes.  For example, Cameron Diaz and Jude Law's characters have a fantastic meet-cute where Law shows up dead drunk on his sister's porch only to encounter the pajama-clad Diaz instead.
The first meeting of characters, on screen or in print, is as important as any first impression.  It sets the stage for everything that happens afterward.  Here are my tips, gleaned from years of picking apart romantic comedies:
  1. Make it memorable:  One or both of the parties--as well as the audience--should be left thinking about what has just happened.  A negative first impression, like Mr. Darcy makes on Elizabeth, can be as effective as a positive first impression.
  2. Make it emotional: Emotions can run hot or cold at this point, but if your characters or audience are unaffected by the meet-cute, they will have no motivation to continue. 
  3. Make it sensory: This is the perfect time to involve the senses in the story. The more senses you can activate, the more readers will connect with the scene. 
Following my own guidelines, I beefed up the meet-cute from Sam James (unpublished):

Considering the early hour, Samantha felt amazingly chipper. Perhaps it was because every time she'd fallen asleep her dreams had revolved around a certain ballroom dancer with a strong, confident look in his eyes and a manly set to his mouth. She reflected on his many attractions as she swung open the gym door. The air-conditioning wafted over her as the elevator music--something from the 80s--assailed her ears.  At the door, she selected a gossipy magazine from the amply supplied rack and placed it in front of her on a stationary bicycle.  Setting the bike on the highest setting, she chose a particularly racy article and began her workout. 
She was thoroughly engrossed in both magazine and cycling when someone mounted the bike next to hers.  Inattentive to the sounds of the gym filling before, now that her attention had been drawn from the magazine, she began to feel a little self-conscious.  Sweat pooled across her shirt, stringy bits of hair were pasted to her neck and forehead, and some sort of gym-sock-like aroma hung about her. Sam wrinkled her nose. She glanced at the gym’s other occupants to see if anyone else had noticed.  
Unfortunately, she seemed to have fallen in with the non-sweating, attractively dressed, calmly chatting with each other while glaring in her general direction set.  She was about to slink discreetly out when her gaze fell on the person beside her.  The face from her dreams smiled disarmingly back at her, and added a cheery, “Good morning.”
Sam tried to respond, but her throat had gone dry, probably because her mouth was gaping open.  She must look like some kind of mentally incapacitated guppy. 
Amusement twinkled in his eyes.  “Do you need some water or something?  You must be parched.” Without waiting for a response he tossed her a bottle, saying, “Fresh from the vending machine.”
Catching it, she blinked uncomprehendingly down at it for a moment. Where were all the glib comments and clever retorts?  She popped the lid off and lifted the bottle to her mouth.
He watched, his eyes growing bigger as she downed the entire bottle in a matter of seconds.  “Impressive.”
Embarrassed and still incapable of forming complete sentences. she wiped the droplets from her chin and passed him the empty bottle.  
He smiled again, a somewhat lopsided grin and said, “Better?”
“Uh, yeah.  Thanks,” she said, resigned to the fact that his first impression of her would be as a sweaty, stinky, sloppy, mouth breather.  She turned, poised to beat the speedy retreat he’d frustrated earlier.  
“Have a good day,” he said, smiling his cockeyed grin at her retreating figure.

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