This is an extremely tricky pacing issue, and it's one that glares at me in my old manuscripts. My characters were always way too honest, way too forward with one another in first conversations.
Here are some guiding principles for developing relationships between characters:
Don't forget first impressions
Your characters have a way they want to appear to the outside world. We all do. When I'm meeting someone for the first time, I want them to walk away thinking I'm friendly and easy to talk to. This means I do a lot of smiling, a lot of question asking, and I'll agree to basically anything they say or I'll sidestep an issue so as not to create conflict.
So what about your main character and the person they're meeting? What kind of impression do they want others to have of them (one of power? perfection? being in control?) and how do they go about achieving it?
Here are some things you can do to have fun with that first impression:
Have them meet when one of them is not at their best. One of those moments where in real life you'd want to say, "I'm not normally like this..."
Or how can they get a shade of the truth but misinterpret each other (a la Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy)
Do these characters know anything about the other from another source? You can have fun with that too. Haven't you ever had the experience where a friend just raves and raves about her new boyfriend. He's so funny! He's so smart! He's so easy to talk to! Then you meet him and he seems like a total dud? If applicable, think about what expectations your character brings into this new relationship.
Bonding them through shared experiences and activities
The best way to get your characters to bond (whether they like it or not!) is by tying them together in some way.
In Me, Just Different Skylar is so not in the mood for a guy like Connor Ross and finds him completely annoying ... but when he overhears her big family secret - that her little sister is pregnant - the two of them are now tied together. He's now the only person who knows what she's dealing with at home and the only one she can talk to about her concern for her sister. It bonds them despite their frustrations with each other.
You can also bond them through activities. If we're in a school setting, there are so many options. Group projects, playing the same sport, a shared class, lockers next to each other, the same after school job, best friends who are dating so now these two have to spend time together, the list goes on and on.
If they're adults or just not in school, they can live in close proximity to each other, work for the same charitable cause (i.e. they both have a heart for disabled veterans), serve on the same committee, etc.
However you can, get these people in the same room. Often.
Leave the boring stuff off the page
Kinda like last week when we talked about developing skills for your character much of the relationship building stuff can be left off the page, can be implied.
I'm pulling an example from an unpublished story of mine that I absolutely adore but that appears to have zero place in the market. Sniff, sniff.
So, there's a new boy at school who Marin thinks is cute, but she's sworn off all dating because her last boyfriend was untrustworthy. And also because her parents are in the middle of a nasty divorce. She went out to dinner last night with her dad and it turned out Vince (new boy) was her waiter. He witnessed the ugly fight between the two of them (shared experiences). This is the next day and they're working on the school newspaper together (shared activity). Vince has told Marin that his parents divorced over the summer as well.
“Parents, huh?” His chuckle is dry. “What does ‘irreconcilable differences’ even mean?”
I shake my head.
“It’s just laziness. That should be the box they have to check on the divorce papers. If they have to check anything … I’m not really sure how it works.”
His gaze travels my face. “Let’s talk about something more enjoyable. Famine, war, orphans. Something along those lines.”
I laugh again. I like that he can make me laugh twice during a serious conversation about our crazy families. Dave, who had many good points, had no sense of humor. He was the type of boyfriend who, in a situation like this, encouraged me to really cry as I wrote out my emotions. Then he’d want me to make something artistic—a haiku, an abstract painting—from my pain.
But Vince is different. And when he smiles at me like that, with humor shining in his eyes, I see how some changes are good.
This is the end of a chapter. I had already established that the two of them were going to be in the newsroom for awhile as she showed him how the software worked. So even the reader only sees this bit of the conversation and the next chapter starts us off several days later, the reader (whether they consciously realize it or not) understands that they spent a chunk of time together.
Again, the growth of character relationships is a tricky thing to pace, so don't be afraid to get it wrong during your first attempt. You can always tackle it in the editing process.
Hopefully this helped!
One quick thing. Carla Stewart, who occasionally judges for our teen writing contests, has a new release this week, and I'm absolutely in love with her cover:
Can't you just tell she writes "vintage" lit? I'm super eager to read this book. You can click on the cover for a description.
Have a great day everyone!