Cue the Heartstrings

Saturday, July 22, 2017
In most movies and books, it's easy to tell when characters fall in love. Cue the wobbly knees and sweaty palms as two people embrace for their first kiss. Cue the birds singing in the background, the music, and the panoramic view of the New York City skyline, preferably with the Empire State Building windows lit in the shape of a heart.

There are many examples of extraordinary feats of strength and courage that prove someone has been struck by Cupid's arrow. These scenes are often powerful and beautiful. But there are times when it's just as effective to use a small, sweet gesture to melt the hearts of our leading characters.

Recently I watched The Way We Were. My new favorite scene is near the beginning of the movie when Robert Redford and Barbra Streisand were talking one night at an empty, outdoor bar/cafe. They don't know each other well, and the conversation isn't as smooth as it is later in the movie when they know each other more intimately. The dialogue stops and starts, and I already want them to like each other and want one of them to say something witty to make them fall in love with each other. But they don't. Not yet.

But here's what does happen: The camera cuts to Streisand's untied shoe. Redford is sitting on a table, or short wall (I can't remember exactly), but he sees the shoe and she sees that he sees the shoe and he pats the front of his thigh and tells her to put her foot there. And she does. And he ties it. When he's finished, he gently touches the top of the shoe with his hand for just a moment.

This scene captured everything they were feeling through a simple gesture that spoke volumes. She was vulnerable, he was caring. A kind act that shows a character's emotions in a way that isn't sexual can increase the heat factor to be explored later, while also building tension.

Here's two examples of how other movies effectively capture these small moments:

In Stranger than Fiction, IRS agent Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) brought bakery owner Ana Pascal (Maggie Gyllenhaal) an assortment of flours (also a play on words). She, of course, immediately invites him to her place.

And finally, who wouldn't want Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack) from the movie Say Anything... standing in their driveway holding a boom box playing In Your Eyes, by Peter Gabriel?

So take these cues from the movies to show your characters falling in love through a small gesture. And if you have a favorite example, please share it!

Mary Horner is a freelance writer and editor, and the author of Strengthen Your Nonfiction Writing. She teaches communications at St. Louis and St. Charles Community Colleges.


Margo Dill said...

These are great examples and you are right, who doesn't love Say Anything's boombox scene. I never really thought about this before, but now I am going to keep a look out for it. Because often in real life, this is the way we remember what someone did for us (a small gesture)--at least women are often like this. :)

Renee Roberson said...

What a fun topic! Many, many years ago, when I was a mere baby at age 13, I went with my best friend to watch her older brother play soccer. She casually mentioned that a couple of her cousins I had never met would be there. While walking to the field, she tapped a guy our age on the shoulder and he turned around. I swear, the second he turned his pale blue eyes on me, I was a goner. I know some people don't believe in love at first sight, but in that instant I knew it was real. We spent the whole game talking and ended up "dating," or whatever you could call it for several months, but being at different schools across town meant we didn't see each other a lot so it eventually fizzled. We dated a few times in high school once we were both driving and he also pulled me out of a river when I fell off an inner tube during an outing with friends when we were 18. When working on my latest YA manuscript, I tried to replicate the feelings of that first meeting during my two main characters. It wasn't really a gesture at all, per se, just a look. I swear it does happen.

Donna Volkenannt said...

Hi Mary,
I always enjoy reading your insightful posts, and you've given us another one with good examples.

Just like the movies, in life it's the little things that count, be it gestures or glances.

Mary Horner said...

Margo, I hadn't really thought about it much either, but that scene from The Way we Were really spoke to me and got me thinking about how falling in love is portrayed in books and movies. And Donna, I've always thought that the little things are the things we remember. Renee, I also believe in love at first sight, and I can't explain it nor would I try but when it strikes, it's powerful!

Pat Wahler said...

I love when a little thing, a hint of what's to come, sticks in a reader's mind. As always, a terrific post, Mary!


Candace said...

Hi Mary, I agree that it's the little things that add up. Good post. I will be keeping this in mind as I edit my WIP.

Mary Horner said...

Thanks, Pat, I agree about the little things. And Candace, you are the master at "the little thing that adds up!"You do a great job of using a habit, or item to speak volumes about your characters!

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