First meetings are always going to have a soft spot for me. When I think about how I want to recommend a story that I love to someone—I think about the first meetings, I think about what sparks excitement for me, I think about the possibilities that come from character arcs intersecting.
When I write, I try to think of those same things as well. I look at the paths that characters are on, and I look at the paths that I would prefer them to be on, and I try to figure out how I can intersect those paths so that everyone can get where they’re going. I try to figure the absolute best time for two characters to cross paths—and then sometimes I write that interaction, and sometimes I reverse it, and write the absolute worst intersection as well.
Favourite First Meetings
There are so many amazing first meetings that I love. Robin Hood meeting Little John on the bridge in Nottingham Forest. Harry Potter, crammed into a train carriage heading away to a school where it seems like everybody knows what’s happening except him. The clash of personalities when the gang gets together for the first time in Leverage. Our very first introduction to Han Solo, and his “fastest ship in the galaxy”. Farmboy Garion, with his Aunt Pol, stumbling into the light of a fire and meeting an absolute bear of a man, and the acrobat sitting next to him. The very first glimpse we get of Furiosa, striding toward her War Rig with the brand visible on the back of her neck. John Watson, meeting Sherlock Holmes, and wondering what he’s gotten himself into. These kinds of first meetings are fantastic on our first viewing, because they pull us into the world—and they’re even better on subsequent meetings, because we know the impact that those meetings have on the character arcs, and we know where their stories go—and we know that these first meetings are what gets them there.
I draft by the seat of my pants the first time around—but when I edit, I always go back and focus on the first meetings. I like to play with the perceptions of characters—how do they see each other? Do they think of the other person as important, or do they brush them aside? Is there a hint of chemistry, some kind of weight between the characters, or does the first meeting just pass them by, with neither character being aware of how much they’ll end up meaning to the other?
I like to play with disparate meanings—one character walks away from the meeting fascinated by the other person, the other walks away detesting them. One wants desperately to impress the other, and absolutely botches it—the other is indifferent at first, but walks away intrigued.
Please, Do Misunderstand Me
The first meeting is a great place to establish misunderstandings between characters, and set up the seeds of conflict for later. You can use first meetings to feed in the notes that make up your character arcs. There’s a lot of power that comes from first impressions—and, as writers, we can decide how we’re going to play with those in order to hook the reader into our stories. Some first meetings go poorly, and that’s indicative of the relationship as a whole. Some go well—but the relationship itself disintegrates over the course of the story. There are so many options we can delve into, but it’s the very first one that forms the foundation of the rest of the relationship.
Some foundations are solid, and some are bound to crumble. Some are made of solid brick, and others are made of hollow plaster, doomed to fall apart the moment any pressure is put on it.
As a writer? That first meeting is all up to you.
Make it good, make it bad—but make it something we can look back on.
Make it something where we nudge the person next to us, as we’re showing them your story for the first time.
Hey, we say. Hey, pay attention.
This is a really good part coming up.
This is the part where they meet.