Tuesday, January 21

Posted by Laurel Garver on Tuesday, January 21, 2014 8 comments
Photo credit: jpkwitter from morguefile.com
First impressions can be powerful, but having a character go from never-seen-you-before stranger to die-for-you, head-over-heels, true love in under sixty seconds isn't terribly realistic. Nor is it the most effective way to build a romantic plot line. There's too little room for escalation, for change and growth.

One instance where Insta-love can be effectively used is when the character's fatal flaw is being naively trusting and having no filters. Think of Anna in Frozen, who's ready to hand over her heart--and her family's kingdom--to the first guy who turns on the charm. This type of character flaw is common for an education plot, in which the character must, through trial and error, become more wise.

With that caveat out of the way, let's look at some other approaches to that all-important first meeting, and types of first impressions beyond insta-love.


When the characters first meet, the protagonist might find the potential love interest unusual in some way. Immediately questions arise about this person. Perhaps his reputation precedes him, and the heroine suspects the whispers and rumblings might not be true. Or there are small details he notices about this woman that indicate she'd be fun to get to know better. Beginning at piqued curiosity can lead all sorts of interesting directions.


Characters meet in such a way that an admirable trait is revealed, whether big heroics like a fire-fighter rescue, or more ordinary positive interaction, such as a store clerk who's especially kind and helpful. Being drawn from a distance to someone who is exceptionally talented (a musician or athlete for instance), intelligent, or generous might also stir up initial feelings of attraction.


Characters meet in such a way that one causes the other an inconvenience or hardship. The first feelings might be simply annoyance. How the harm is dealt with can make for continued interactions for the better--or for the worse. Either way, an accidentally bad first impression is a tension-building obstacle to overcome.


Characters from opposing sides, when thrown together, are more likely to feel insta-ugh than insta-love. This representative of the enemy team, social class, political party, competitor business, family, what have you, will be perceived negatively at first, even if he or she displays admirable traits or is physically attractive. Undoing the protagonist's prejudice will require a multi-pronged approach.


When the characters meet, one might not particularly register the other's presence. He might be distracted by other difficulties and challenges; she might be paying more attention to an already-known person in the scene. This kind of non-impression gives you excellent space to escalate. Clearly a big obstacle to overcome is the character's inability to get out of his own head and engage with others.

Secondary characters will play a large role in helping along a connection. The buddy might have to point out her good qualities, the BFF might find him drool-worthy in a way your heroine was too distracted to notice.

Physical attraction

This person is just so H-O-T. It's like a magnetic pull....

Yawn. Far too many book romances begin with only physical attraction, especially to another's appearance. Besides being cliche, it also makes your protagonist seem extremely shallow.  It's far more interesting to have a character register attraction after having other impressions--she's smart and kind AND pretty. He's self-effacing and well-read AND has great hair. Mixing in other senses, like sound and smell, can make the experience of attraction more interesting to read. He has a honey-smooth voice; she smells fresh-scrubbed and sunshiny.

Of course, when setting up a love triangle, many writers choose to have the heroine make one connection that's only skin-deep, and another that's multi-faceted, with more growth potential. Just keep in mind that this kind of unsubtle approach may strike readers as predictable. Triangles are most effective when a protagonist has to choose between two good options.

What are your favorite first-meets in books or film that took an approach other than insta-love?


  1. Definitely tired of seeing the Physical Attraction first thing in a book. And you're right, it makes me not like the mc right from the start, and they then have to work harder to get in my good graces after that. =)

    1. Characters who get swoony too fast always seem a little silly to me, too. Glad to know I'm not the only one who thinks so.

  2. I couldn't agree with you more. The 60 second meet and fall in love is totally unrealistic. I like it better when they build the relationship.

    1. Intense attraction might happen quickly, but love is more complex than liking how someone looks, right? It takes time to build.

  3. I LOVE when they take the dismissal approach. Seriously. That gets me every time. I have one anti-hero who takes that approach, and to this day I think he's the coolest guy ever. Like seriously. =)

    Swoony=silly. Got it.

    1. It definitely gives lots of room for the relationship to grow!

      Some readers like the swoony approach, so mileage may vary on that one. I rarely read straight-up romances because I find it hard to respect and root for swoony heroines. Not my taste, I guess.

  4. I love how you broke this down in categories like admiration, intrigue, annoyance, dismissal, etc. This is really giving me pause for thought about my initial meetings between characters. Thank you! (bookmarking this post too!)

    1. Glad you found it helpful. I just love analyzing, so when I came across a host of great, non-insta-love stories, I got busy studying what they did.

      And I missed one, which I'll cover in the Friday lunchtime post.