If you're new at writing (or even an old pro who is looking to work on their craft), it might be helpful to consider how to introduce your characters and their love story. Any romance novel reader knows that the moment the characters meet and begin their journey toward coupledom is one of the hardest scenes to capture and one of the most important. It’s the difference between apples and orangatangs. The key in the romance genre is to capture some version of love at first sight rather than lust at first sight.
The first excerpt comes from Christine Feehan’s Dark Melody. Dayan is a Carpathian (Feehan’s version of a friendly vampire) and a musician on a sort-of-vacation. In this scene, he is contemplating when his lifemate (think soulmate who acts like xanax) will show up in his life–and then she does.
The second excerpt comes from Jude Deveraux’s A Knight in Shining Armor. Dougless has been abandoned by her current boyfriend and his daughter at a wayside church in England during a vacation. She’s crying her eyes out, begging for a good man after her stream of bad ones when her knight in shining armor appears.
These characters encounter their potential love interests unexpectedly and with a certain amount of fanfare. Let’s take a look at some of the how-to’s for writing a good First Impression scene:
His lifemate. The one woman who could save him. Where was she?
The door opened, allowing the night breeze to rush into the room, dispelling the odor of too many bodies crushed together in too small a space. It was the sound of a heartbeat that made him lift his head. The heart was weak and irregular, beating too fast, laboring too hard. Dayan looked up and literally lost his ability to breathe. There she was. Just like that. His lungs burned for air and his fingers lost their age-old rhythm. His heart began to match the strange rhythm of hers.
Dayan forced a breath into his body. First one, then a second. The band was staring at him uncertainly. His fingers began a melody he had never played before, one that was always there, locked in his heart. Dimly he was aware the band had taken its cue from him, following his lead, but he paid no attention to the others. He couldn’t look away from her, watching as she paused while her light-haired companion spoke with several acquaintances.
What was wrong with her heart?
A Knight in Shining Armor:
Help me,” she whispered, her hand on the marble hand of the sculpture. “Help me find my Knight in Shining Armor. Help me find a man who wants me.”
Sitting back on her heels, with her hands covering her face, Dougless began to cry harder.
After a long while, she slowly came to realize that someone was near her. When she turned her head, a stream of sunlight coming from a high window hit metal and so blinded her that she sat back on the stone floor with a thud. She put her hand up to shield her eyes.
Standing before her was a man, a man who appeared to be wearing. . . armor.
He was standing so still, and glaring down at Dougless so fiercely, that at first she thought he wasn’t real. She couldn’t help staring up at him in openmouthed astonishment. He was an extraordinarily good looking man, and he was wearing the most authentic-looking stage costume she’d ever seen. There was a small ruff about his neck, then armor to his waist. But what armor! The shiny metal looked almost as though it was silver. Down the front of the armor were many rows of etched flower designs, each design filled with a gold-colored metal. From his waist to mid-thigh he wore a type of shorts that ballooned out about his body. Below the shorts, his legs—his big, muscular legs—were clad in stockings that looked to be knitted of . . . there was only one fiber on earth that reflected light in just that way: silk. Tied above his left knee was a garter made of blue silk and beautifully embroidered. His feet sported odd, soft shoes that had little cut-outs across the toes.
“Well, witch,” the man said in a deep baritone, “you have conjured me, so what now do you ask of me?
Do’s and Don’ts
Do write using the sense. Don’t get stuck on the baser “senses.” In the Feehan excerpt, the narrator explains that Dayan is concerned with the sensation of the woman’s heart beat. The reader is told Dayan has trouble breathing–his lungs burn. He talks about the sensation of his fingers on an instrument as he deals with his emotions–all very compelling. None of it is purely physical (or sexual). In the case of Deveraux’s heroine, it’s nothing BUT physical and sexualized.
Do make it emotionally charged. Don’t make it sexually explosive. The thing that works about the first excerpt is that is focused less on the physical and sexual and more on the mental/emotional connection of the characters. In the case of Feehan’s Dayan, it is an actual psychic connection to his soulmate which tells him that she is exactly that. He is not sizing up her ta-tas or talking about how her shiny hair whips around seductively. He is thinking about his own emotions. He is thinking about the importance of this discovery in his own life.
Do make it unique. Don’t make it predictable. This one seems like a no-brainer, but…it’s not. It’s a brain yourself on the table when you read the same mistake over and over and over. In the first excerpt, we’re not quite sure where the narrators (or either character) are going. Will Dayan seek out this woman? How will he make her a part of his life? Can he? In the second excerpt, Douglass…well…she’s happy to see shiny thighs? Shiny thighs is unhappy to see her? Commence sexual tension and typical Girl/Boy fight for a minute until they “succumb to passion” narrative. The beauty of the first excerpt is that it is particular to the author and characters. Feehan creates characters and a romance narrative that allows her to logically circumvent many of the First Impression conventions without getting rid of the encounter itself or the romance of the meeting. In the words of the Beatles…let it be. Don’t try to force the sexy on your reader at the beginning. None of us want to feel like brain sluts.