Getting to Know You: Character-Building in Romance

"Getting to Know You" sequences depend on
location, location, location.
One place that romances unfortunately often fail is the "getting to know you" part.

Romances need the characters to get to know each other. If they don't, the reader is left wondering, Why are these people together? The reader also needs to "see" the "getting to know you" parts--not simply be told that the characters spent an afternoon together exchanging recipes and jokes.

The problem for the writer, of course, is how long should the "getting to know you"  parts be? Too long, and the plot gets lost. Too short, and . . . Why are these people together?

Examples of "getting to know you" montages in movies and paperback romances:
The Lake House
Time travel scenarios are difficult because the characters often only know each other through a single medium: letters or phone calls or images. The Lake House is a remarkably credible film (and one of the few where I think Keanu Reeves is as good as he is in purely physical roles--it likely helps that he is acting opposite known-element Sandra Bullock). The characters not only exchange letters and share a physical space, they do in fact meet. And their meeting contains enough dialog and behavior to convince us, Yeah, that couple could make a go of it.

Beauty and The Beast (Animated)
Getting to the know the Beast works too well. Bring back the Beast!

Lisa Kleypas (Steamy)
In Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor, a slim contemporary romance novel, the main characters/couple believably become friends, then mutually interested friends on ferry rides to and from Seattle (see first image). By necessity, Kleypas has to summarize. But she provides enough conversation and enough specifics in her summaries to make their budding relationship believable. When she does have to fall back on "okay, so, they talked; I couldn't transcribe the entire conversation," she tells us what they spoke of, what types of jokes they shared, and what they found enjoyable in each other's responses.

Location, location, location.
Likewise, in Kleypas's Regency romance Devil in Winter, Sebastian and Evie elope to Gretna Green for practical/financial reasons. They barely know each other, yet by the end of the journey (first 2-3 chapters) readers feel, "Hmm, maybe this will work." Not only are we provided with dialog but also with concrete behaviors. We learn, for instance, that Sebastian for all his aloofness is kind and, more importantly, efficient in his kindness (that foot warmer!). We learn too that they are easy with each other physically. And we learn that they are capable to taking a long journey without ripping each other to shreds (I had a roommate who said she would only marry a guy after she had driven cross-country with him--and not killed him. And she did: drive cross-country with the guy she ended up marrying. No deaths!).
"Getting to know you parts" are like sports montages: a series of scenes pulled together (sometimes with music) to prove that yes, the athlete did train; yes, the ending where the underdog beats the champion will now be believable.

Don't tell me that the relationship worked out--prove to me that it could!

1 comment:

FreeLiveFree said...

This may be the reason romance in non-romantic works falls flat. They don't give you a reason they fall in love. Either that or the romance consumes the story line and they forget about solving the murder or saving the world.

In my experience, fans of Private Eye novel series generally dislike the hero's love interest.