Dating, Conflict, and the Careful Application of Crazysauce
It was ok. Pretty good, I guess. We went to a sports bar and played one of those networked trivia games. Mr. R wiped up the geography section—but then came a slew of questions about the human skeleton, and a look of dread crossed his face.
Fortunately for him, I learned some weird things in third grade, including the names of most human bones. The third grade part made me O_o – that’s quite a memory! So, we won. Mischief managed! Mr. R was so impressed that he called me for a second date a mere nine days later. That was ok with me, because we were both grad students and we had some giant research papers to complete during the nine days.
Does that make for an interesting story? If it weren’t for the skeleton, I’d say: not really. Dating may be the one area of life that’s less horrible AS WELL AS less amazing than it appears in fiction. Most real-life dates don’t make for good reading, because there’s no conflict. Both people want the same thing: to meet someone they’ll like spending time with. And conflict is what propels a story along.
For this reason, a lot of first dates in fiction aren’t between the hero and heroine. Instead, the date is with someone else so that it can serve as a source of conflict; that is, a reason for the couple not to be together.
I’ll give you some examples in a table, because I love making tables (I was dropped as a baby). Here we see some sample events from my first date with Mr. R, as compared to totally made-up equivalents in contemporary and historical romance.
I don’t know why the lines of the chart won’t show up : sorry.
|Actual First Date with Mr. R
|First Date in a Contemporary Romance
|First Social Encounter in a Historical Romance
|Site of date
|An average-looking sports bar
|A sports bar that is 1000% seedier than the heroine expected
|A mad crush of bodies in the most anticipated ball of the entire London season
|Man with comb-over, dressed in leisure suit, who bears no resemblance to photo on dating site
|Noble nincompoop sent by heroine’s mother to dance with her
|Behavior of heroine’s date
|Sadly ignorant of human skeletal terminology; otherwise nice
|Much loud laughter at own jokes; inappropriate touching
|Unable to remember dance steps; presumes too much upon slight acquaintance
|Location of hero
|In vicinity of heroine
|Seated on nearby barstool, smirking at clueless behavior of Leisure Suit Man
|Standing with bored pack of alpha males, all deriding the latest debutantes—until heroine catches his eye as she dances with Lord Nincompoop
|Circumstances of kiss
|At end of date, hero says goodnight and kisses heroine*
|Leisure Suit Man goes in for a smooch, heroine falls off chair in attempt to avoid
|Lord Nincompoop lures heroine into garden and plants one on her—in view of notorious gossip
|Nine days of radio silence, during which time serious-grad-student-type research papers were completed
|Heroine chokes on gum, turns purple. Hero swoops in and successfully performs Heimlich
|Hero intervenes to prevent hasty betrothal; ends by spiriting heroine away for three scandalous days of passion
See? There’s much more conflict when the hero and heroine are kept separate by something more than research papers. (Also, that was kind of fun calling myself a heroine.) While we love it when a date goes smoothly in real life, in fiction we love heaping scoops of conflict, sometimes with a sweet crazysauce topping.
In my romance debut, Season for Temptation, the hero and heroine’s first meeting isn’t like the one in the table above. There’s no garden, and no ballroom, but there is a giant source of conflict. James and Julia meet when he comes to visit her family—because he’s in an engagement of convenience to Julia’s stepsister, who’s also her closest friend.
In real life, this is the kind of situation that gets you on The Jerry Springer Show, and even in fiction, it has the potential to cross lines of betrayal that I wanted to stay away from. I was looking for conflict, but not a crazysauce level of it. So in my story, all three people involved in the triangle are motivated by duty to their families, and they’re all trying to act in an honorable way. As it turns out, this puts even more barriers in the way of James and Julia’s romance.
Have you read a book, or seen a movie, with a first-date scene that you really enjoyed? Share, share! I’m offering a print copy of Season for Temptation to one random commenter. International entrants welcome.
BIO: Theresa Romain pursued an impractical education that allowed her to read everything she could get her hands on. She then worked for universities and libraries, where she got to read even more. Eventually she started writing, too. Her historical romance debut, SEASON FOR TEMPTATION, was published in October 2011. The sequel, SEASON FOR SURRENDER, will be published in October 2012.
*He still says I kissed him. But I disagree, and I’m the one writing the blog post.