No doubt you’re familiar with the movie screenwriting term ‘meet cute’. It originated in the 1940s, when romantic comedies incorporated attention-grabbing and amusing scenes for the leads’ first meeting. Here is an explanation from the 1955 play Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?:
[T]he beginning of a movie is childishly simple. The boy and girl meet. The only important thing to remember is that—in a movie—the boy and the girl must meet in some cute way. They cannot […] meet like normal people at, perhaps, a cocktail party or some other social function. No. It is terribly important that they meet cute.
The meet cute in a story – visual or written – has such impact that life will never be the same for either of the characters; it creates the spark of interest and attraction that will grow to be a fire. Take this meet cute from the iconic movie Gone with the Wind:
Perfection, don’t you think? It beautifully sets the tone for Rhett and Scarlett’s relationship, and I love Rhett’s dry humour and Scarlett’s pretence at being scandalised at his eavesdropping on her intimate moment with Ashley.
The meet cute does not have to be humorous; it can be poignant and passionate, as in my own writing. What really matters is the connection that is forged in those first seconds and minutes.
In my new novel Legacy, Luna first sets eyes on Ruy in a city far from home, Barcelona, in a bar she has stumbled upon while exploring. Drawn in by the flamenco music, she stands in the busy tavern, feeling uncertain and out of place, and is about to leave when:
And then it happened … their eyes met across the room and held for a long moment. The effect was electric and hit Luna like a bolt of lightning. His gaze, fringed by long black lashes, burned with a fire that scorched her as it moved slowly and deliberately over her face, then her body, with frank admiration, as if drinking in her every feature. Though she could not see the exact colour of his eyes at this distance, she knew they were paler than his tanned complexion – brilliant and alive with passion.
The man before her was mesmerizing in his perfect male beauty. His bold, open stare should have made her want to turn and run but something more powerful than she had ever experienced, a shot of pure adrenaline in her blood, had her rooted to the spot.
In that split second of silent meeting, Luna’s heart seemed to turn over in her breast and her pulse accelerated to a wild beat.
From there, Luna is compelled to find a seat and watch the gypsy perform. She is in the unusual position of being able to look at this attractive man openly as a member of his audience. He, too, seems captivated by her, so much so that ‘although he sang to the audience, she knew from the sensuous intimacy in his eyes that he was singing for her alone’.
At this first meeting, not a single word is exchanged between the two. Luna gives the waiter a tip to pass to the guitarist, who has stirred her to the depths of her soul. Across the room, Ruy receives the waiter’s tip and raises two glasses of fino to Luna: an invitation to drink with him. But as much as Luna wants to succumb to the heady atmosphere and be like the Spaniards dancing around her – sensual, passionate, uninhibited – she is frightened to step into this unfamiliar and dangerous territory, and so she shakes her head in apology and leaves.
The next time Luna and Ruy meet, it will be in a professional capacity, and the atmosphere will be very different. But for this first meeting, impassioned intensity is essential. The two are at a distance, and yet undeniably drawn to each other; the meeting will be memorable for both, and yet neither could say much happened at all – they could dismiss the connection as mere fantasy or a passing fancy, or they could admit that something very powerful passed between them in that tavern.
Why set Luna and Ruy’s meet cute in a back-street bar of Barcelona when their love story unfolds far away in Cadiz, Andalucía? Legacy is the answer. In the big, bustling city of Barcelona Luna and Ruy are just two anonymous strangers whose paths have crossed. I wanted to give them this chance to connect, to be individuals displaced from their pasts and their families, before bringing them to Andalucía, where they become entangled by tortuous family legacies that thwart and complicate their love.
Of course, though, neither Luna nor Ruy is entirely cut off from their legacy in Barcelona. After all, it is a shared love for flamenco music that brings about the meet cute: Ruy is the musician descended from Andalucían gypsies, Luna is the half-Spanish woman who is drawn to the music of her mother’s heritage. Ultimately, neither can deny the blood that runs in their veins. But can the powerful and soulful connection they forge across that crowded bar hold firm in the face of their family legacies?
I will leave you with one of my inspirations for the Legacy meet cute, from the classic Rogers and Hammerstein musical South Pacific:
Some enchanted evening, when you find your true love
When you feel her call you across a crowded room
Then fly to her side and make her your own
Or all through your life you may dream all alone