I made kind of an astonishing realization this morning: the scene I am currently chipping away at, 100 words at a time, is the very first scene I’ve written in which a hero and heroine meet for the first time.
Not a joke. In all the other stories I have finished or seriously begun, the hero and the heroine have known one another, at least peripherally, for some time before the story begins. The one exception is the novel awaiting serious revision, but in that book the lovers meet at a masquerade, and she takes him for a man she used to know and he takes her for no kind of lady, so it is definitely not this kind of first meeting, where you are on good behavior because it’s a stranger but you maybe aren’t quite being yourself until they seem to respond to the nuggets of your true personality you show them.
I was kind of floored by this realization, because, if I haven’t mentioned it here, I have like…15 stories in one degree of being started or another. Some of them involve people who have known each other for years, or who knew each other long ago, and some involve people who have met in society but never gotten to know one another….but none of them are first-time meetings.
When I think about it, though, this is not that odd if you compare it to real life. Most of the relationships we form, be they friendly or romantic, don’t really get going with the first meeting. It happens occasionally. On exactly one occasion, in junior high, I made a friend out of the new girl in school on a hay ride with my church the weekend before school started. We’d never met but spent the whole ride talking and laughing, and we are still in touch today. Exactly one time I met a guy for the first time and thought anything of it, romantically speaking; ironically that was the only time we met in person, and I still spent years convinced I would marry him. (Didn’t happen, obviously, at least not in this universe.)
So with that context in mind, suddenly I get why so few of my stories involve strangers, since my characters are so deeply based in my actual experience of human relationships. Every now and then the first meeting with someone can have a dramatic influence on you…but most of the time it’s the second meeting. Or the third. Or the thirtieth. As a writer, I think I avoid those initial meetings because they don’t matter. They are boring, because nothing happens in them that matters later. Idle conversation that can’t be recalled afterward; at best you leave a general impression on someone that speaks to actual qualities you possess. It might be enough to get someone to talk to you again (or it might create a barrier you have to overcome later, if they found you obnoxious on first acquaintance)…but that first meeting itself isn’t even the inciting incident. That happens later, when you hit that conversational turning point in which you consciously realize you like the person and find them interesting and want to know more about them. That moment is the inciting incident for all relationships.
Knowing this is the first time I’m putting down a mostly-insignificant first meeting on paper might help me get through it faster, because it will remind me that it’s not meant to be scintillating or engrossing. It’s supposed to be polite, stilted, and perhaps sprinkled with hints at the interesting people beneath the social facade. The reason it’s in the story at all is because the entire story is that these two people meet and turn out to be perfect for each other. It’s a short piece, with little plot and less drama. So, boring as it may be, the first meeting is an integral part of the story.
I just have to remember that it shouldn’t be a particularly memorable meeting – at least not for him.