by Lisa Jordan @lisajordan
Do you remember your first date? Or maybe your first date with the person who ended up becoming your spouse?
My husband and I had a unique courtship—we met in our hometown while he served in the USMC but had come home on leave. For the next 18 months, we communicated via handwritten letters, phone calls, and infrequent weekend visits.
Our friendship had bloomed, but then our romance had blossomed with our first date that had taken place before he’d gone on a week-long fishing trip with his dad and brothers. We’d spent our evening talking and getting to know each other face-to-face after communicating via snail mail for the past two months. Upon his return, he’d given me a handwritten letter on a piece of birch bark he’d peeled from a fallen tree. At the ripe old age of 19, I didn’t know a lot, but I knew I was head over heels in love and wanted to spend the rest of my life with him. 28 years later, I still feel the same way.
But not all of my first dates had gone so well. In fact, I’m sure you could think of a first date you or a friend had experienced that could end up in the Horrible First Dates column.
Romance writers create characters who get to know each other and fall in love by book’s end to embrace their happily ever after…and I can experience my heart sigh as a reader. But it’s also a writer’s job to complicate their characters’ time together in order to build tension, create conflict and making overcoming obstacles difficult. So let’s talk about five tips to help you create first dates for your characters:
- Are they unique? Sometimes it’s a challenge to come up with unique first dates. Think about your story’s genre and setting. What makes it unique? How can you pair your characters together and pull in different storyworld elements to enhance their first date experience? How about apple picking? Collecting seashells at the beach? Geocaching? Rock climbing or hiking? Cooking a meal together? Think about the mundane and twist it up.
- Are they relatable? When writing first dates, you want your readers to relate to them in some way. You don’t want off-the-wall dates that will have your readers rolling their eyes or skimming pages. On the other hand, you don’t want to bore the reader, either. Make the first date believable to the story you’re writing.
- Do they move the story forward? Every scene in your novel needs to move the plot forward. Otherwise, your story risks becoming episodic, that is stagnant scenes that do nothing to enhance the story. My editor has said she doesn’t care for dinner dates in our manuscripts because eating dinner does very little to offer conflict or propel the plot. So when you’re writing those scenes with the first date, have the characters doing something integral to the plot to keep the story moving forward and be sure to throw in obstacles to complicate their time together.
- Do they show emotion? Let’s face it—we read and write romance because we want that happily ever after, right? Your dates need to enable the reader to feel along with the characters. Think about how your characters are feeling when they’re beginning these dates? Color your scene through that emotional lens. Think about how you can add complications to that growing attraction. Remember your own dating fiascos? Draw on those experiences and reactions to weave them into your stories.
- Do they build tension? Adding conflict and tension keeps your reader turning the pages. Last night I watched a movie, and the heroine had a date with the hero, but she was asked to work late. She tried calling the hero, but he didn’t have service where he was. So when she arrived to meet him for their date, they had lost their dinner reservation and the kitchen was closed. They ended up eating pizza on the steps of the building they both lived in. Not high action conflict, but the tension kept me watching to see how the issues would be resolved. So, think about how you can build the tension throughout the scene through external obstacles and emotional complications. In real life, we want our dates to go well, but doing it for characters doesn’t make for engaging reading.
When creating dates for your characters, take some time to show the right emotions. Add elements of humor and snappy dialogue. Draw in the storyworld and unique setting. That way you’re creating scenes that will keep your reader turning pages until they’re disappointed to see the story coming to an end.