Michelle & The ‘Meet Cute’: Ideas for Characters’ First Meetings

Barack posted this ‘throwback’ photo on Instagram yesterday (17th Jan) to celebrate Michelle’s birthday.

I have almost finished reading Michelle Obama’s memoir Becoming and I’m enjoying it but I must admit, I got frustrated with the first few chapters, about her working-class-but-loving-childhood and hard-working adolescence and getting to Princeton – all very worthy and admirable, of course BUT I wanted to get to the part where she first meets Barack!

I was really hoping it was going to be sweet and funny (you’ll have to read it yourself to find out!). I know her memoir isn’t a rom-com but that was the bit I was really interested in: the (strangely named) ‘Meet-Cute.’

Because people are intrigued by that kind of thing, aren’t they? If you’re part of a couple, I bet you’ve been asked, many times ‘How did you meet?’ People want to know ‘the story’ and, rather like me and my curiosity about the Obamas, they want it to be interesting and romantic (and if it isn’t, their little faces fall).

If you write – or watch – romantic comedies, you’ll know, the ‘Meet-Cute’ is the first meeting between two characters who will go on to fall in love. It’s usually memorable in some way – funny, embarrassing or awkward. Sometimes – quite often, actually (think Darcy and Elisabeth Bennett) – they hate each other.

You can have a lot of fun with the ‘meet-cute’. The key is, it’s inventive.

Mark Kermode talks about it brilliantly, with lots of great examples from films in the ‘Rom Com’ episode from his series ‘Secrets of Cinema’. (It was repeated over New Year and that’s when I saw it. Hopefully, when you read this, it will still be available to view on BBC I-player. You might need to register first!).

If you’ve seen the film Notting Hill, you’ll remember the first meeting between Hugh Grant’s character Will and Julia Roberts, playing Anna Scott, is when they crash into each other on the street and he showers her in orange juice.

In Robert Galbraith’s crime series (ahem, heavily laced with a sub-plot of ‘will they, won’t they?’ between detective Cormoran Strike and his assistant, Robin), the two main characters first meet (in The Cuckoo’s Calling) at the top of a staircase, in the middle of a row between Strike and his ex, when 16 stone Strike barges out of a door, slams into Robin and only saves her from falling down the lethal staircase by grabbing her (unfortunately – and embarrassingly, for both of them, by the left breast. Ow).

In Meryl Streep’s Falling in Love (bless, one of my mum’s favourite films), the two main characters are both buying books in a book shop, at Christmas and inadvertently take each other’s purchases home, which makes for an interesting Christmas Day but also, later brings them back together.

In Serendipity, something similar happens – the two lead characters are both trying to buy the same pair of gloves, as Christmas presents, in Bloomingdales, when they meet.

You get the idea.

Actually, I think I need to review the ‘meet cute’ in my novel-in-progress. At the moment it’s probably an anti-meet-cute (it involves a dog-poo bin. I cannot say any more).

So, I’ve been thinking. Whatever kind of novel (or story) that you’re writing, a ‘meet cute’ (perhaps with a less ridiculous name) is a useful trope or concept for bringing two important characters together, in an interesting and memorable way.

It doesn’t have to be funny, after all and the characters don’t have to be potential romantic partners. They could be future adversaries, best friends or work partners.

I wonder how Lewis and Morse first met, for example? Or (showing my age here), James Herriot and Siegfried in All Creatures Great and Small?

My OH has just suggested a great ‘Meet Cute’ between Harry Potter and the giant – and pretty intimidating – Hagrid, in the first HP book, when Hagrid knocks down the front door to reveal to Harry that he’s a wizard. It’s big, it’s bold, it’s a stunning entrance for any character and of course, although Hagrid turns out to be a good guy, at first sight, how can Harry – or the reader – be sure?

Yep, that’s the kind of thing I mean. Perhaps you can think of some more? Impactful. Memorable. We just have to think of a better name than ‘meet cute’, right?


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6 Responses to Michelle & The ‘Meet Cute’: Ideas for Characters’ First Meetings

  1. pennywrite says:

    It’s always good to reach the point where the story’s ‘engine’ starts running! Especially if there’s plenty of intriguing information to tow you along.
    I still recall a long-ago talk from Bernard Cornwell where he cheerfully admitted that he sometimes went back into the narrative to add in a castle door, or somesuch , to allow the action to develop, or two characters to meet. I just loved the idea of popping back into the story to build a bridge or a path or to grow a specially overhanging tree… or find a giant, come to that… and then see where things went from there.

  2. Those are some fun ones! I’ve just read ‘Christmas Under The Stars’, where one of the characters is an astronaut on the International Space Station… he meets his love interest via ham radio. Your mentioning crime fiction reminds me of the famous Holmes and Watson meet: ‘You have been in Afghanistan, I see.’

    My favourite of the ones I’ve written is the secondary pairing in my second novel: the amateur cyclist who’s determined to keep her record as Queen of the Mountains over a particular climb on the Strava app, so keeps having to go after the woman who keeps beating her. Of course eventually they meet…

  3. juliathorley says:

    The one I really, REALLY don’t like is where our heroine is rushing somewhere – maybe a job interview – and she bumps into the back of another car. The driver, of course, turns out to be person she’s rushing to meet.

    • Oh yes! Such a cliche! I have seen that one a few times (hmm, might even have been guilty of it myself before I saw the light and introduced dog poo bins into the mix! Yuck!). Also, (and this is a difficult one to avoid), when the heroine sees/bumps into a good-looking man (about her own age), near the start of the story. THAT is the romantic lead, obviously.

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