Doctor Marcia Fieldstone: Tell me what was so special about your wife?
Sam Baldwin: Well, how long is your program? Well, it was a million tiny little things that, when you added them all up, they meant we were supposed to be together… and I knew it. I knew it the very first time I touched her. It was like coming home… only to no home I’d ever known… I was just taking her hand to help her out of a car and I knew. It was like… magic.
— Sleepless In Seattle (1993,TriStar Pictures)
Oh, that scene was classic. Meg Ryan’s character, Annie, got tears in her eyes as she listened to the radio call-in show, and so did every romantic person watching that movie. And then, in the last scene, Sam takes Annie’s hand, and we know that it’s… magic.
What real romance doesn’t start with non-romantic gestures? I mean, the attraction has to start somewhere. There’s got to be a lead-in to that first kiss that I wrote about a few weeks ago. Something has to make us want to have that first kiss.
In the newly released novel Small Town Girl, by fellow Omnific author Linda Cunningham, if sparks hadn’t already been flying between main characters Lauren and Caleb, I can say that a real clincher for Lauren would have been as she watched Caleb, a firefighter, walk around with a little girl, showing his ‘future dad’-ness as he put her on the fire engine during the county fair. In Nicki Elson’s Three Daves (one of my favorite books ever), Jen and David #1 are so not romantic that they’re able to trust each other completely. They’re in love long before either of them ever realizes it. The smartly written With Good Behavior by Jennifer Lane has two main characters who know they shouldn’t get involved because of their own personal “baggage,” but their interactions slowly lead them into each other’s arms anyway.
In Passion Fish, I loved writing about Will’s first encounter with Eve. He watches how she interacts with her staff at the museum and he’s thoroughly entranced. Yes, he finds her attractive, but he’s looking at more than that. He’s subconsciously already making a list of reasons why he’s attracted to her: she’s smart, gets along well with her colleagues and employees, and carries herself as confident without being showy or demeaning. When he sees her again at the bar that night, he still doesn’t know her name, but he jumps at the chance to play the Passion Fish game, just so he can kiss her…anonymously. It isn’t until they’ve spent time together (through a number of chapters) that her attraction, and “list,” catches up to his. By the time they share their second kiss, you know that it’s true love.
I like romances—books or movies—where the attraction is warranted. When couples proclaim true love with little to back it up, it results in a contrived plot. I like to see from one character’s perspective what makes the love interest special above all others. “I’m attracted to him/her because…” – and the sentence is completed with a realistic list of ‘why’s. That’s where I feel Romeo & Juliet missed the mark; we’re simply told that they’re captivated by and instantly in love with each other. No “well, I met him through a friend” or “we’ve known each other for years” pre-romance background. It’s a fantastic story as a whole, and I believe that love at first sight can happen, but it just makes the romance less believable. And while I am a Twilight fan in general, I readily admit I’ve never figured out why Edward loved Bella so completely or why Bella was “irrevocably” in love with Edward when they honestly had little in common and barely knew each other. The Jacob-Bella romance made more sense; they could at least list concrete reasons they liked each other.
My next book, which I just finished, is a slow romance with international intrigue—lots of cautious flirting embedded within a bigger plot than romance that will bring the main characters closer and closer to that critical first-kiss moment. My readers will never be in doubt that they’re meant to be together; I’m just not rushing things. By the time that first kiss happens, you can list reasons why they want to be together. That also makes the conflict more realistic, I think, because you’ve been in the characters’ heads for so long that you feel the heartbreak when one lets the other down.
And so I ask you: what’s on your list of romantic gestures that makes you feel those first pangs of attraction? What has someone done that made you want to get to know him or her more? What are your thoughts on love at first sight?
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Next Week: Pick-up Lines