Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and the Ellie Sweet books (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.
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1. This will be the last post until Wednesday, January 1st.
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I love the movie Tangled, so it was very exciting to me when my daughter—who's very tenderhearted and gets a wee bit emotional about movies—was finally feeling brave enough to watch it. The result is I've now seen Tangled about five times in the last few months because it's become her favorite movie.
Something that story does incredibly well is develop the relationship between Rapunzel and Flynn, two characters who have never met. If you've ever tried to have two characters meet on the page and grow in their friendship or romantic interest of each other, you know the pacing is super tricky. Too slow and you bore the reader. Too fast and it feels unrealistic and forced.
So when we watched Tangled last week for McKenna's birthday, I tried to analyze how the writers built the relationship. (In Tangled, it's a romantic relationship, but this list could be adapted for a story of friendship as well.)
1. We see the characters in their comfortable home worlds.
Rapunzel is in her tower dreaming of seeing floating lanterns and Flynn is on the run from the law. (And loving it. "Oh, the things we've seen, and it's only eight in the morning!") We get a glimpse of who they are as individuals—their strengths, dreams, and needs.
The traditional romance has at least two point of view (POV) characters, the heroine and the hero. Some also have one or two other POVs sprinkled in. If you're only telling your story from one POV, you at least want to know about your other character's starting place or home world.
2. The characters' worlds collide.
Flynn stumbles upon Rapunzel's tower. Rapunzel smacks him in the face with a frying pan.
If you have a story that involves two characters meeting on the page, you want to give a lot of thought to the when, how, where, and why of the scene where they meet.
In Me, Just Different, Skylar meets Connor right after she's had a traumatic experience that has left her mistrusting of guys. In This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen, Remy meets Dexter when she's up to her eyeballs in details for planning yet another wedding for her mother. We've just gotten a glimpse of Remy's skepticism that real love exists in the world when Dexter approaches her.
3. Their paths merge and they are forced to stick together.
Those stakes are really important for a quest style novel. If you're not writing a quest novel, then the stakes don't need to be high like that, they just need to make sense. In Twilight, Bella and Edward are partnered in science class. In Me, Just Different Connor is dating Skylar's best friend, so the two of them are forced to spend time together. In 11/22/63 by Stephen King, Jake and Sadie are both teachers at the small town high school.
4. The pair is put through a test.
They must stick together to survive it. During this test, information about the other comes out.
In Tangled, while at a pub, Flynn is recognized by the thugs and they want to turn him into the authorities. Rapunzel goes out on a limb and reveals her desperation and her dream to the group in an effort to save Flynn.
During this test, Flynn learns that Rapunzel has more strength than he thought and that she's dreamed of the lanterns her entire life. Rapunzel learns that Flynn is a wanted man and that he's driven by a desire for riches.
5. The action slows long enough for the pair to process what happened.
This is a really important step that I often forget in my first drafts. The reader needs to see that the pair has gelled, that they trust each other a bit deeper because of the test they just survived.
In Tangled, this moment comes in the tunnel after the pair has escaped the Snuggly Duckling. Flynn expresses admiration for how Rapunzel got them out of there. We also see that he is suddenly more interested in her story than he was before.
This scene is critical to the pacing of developing the relationship because it helps to reveal the change that is taking place inside the characters. In the Lord of the Rings trilogy (which is not a romance, but is also a quest style story with relationships that deepen) these scenes often take place when the group is making camp for the night or stopping for a meal. The story would lose relational depth if those moments had been left out.
6. The pair is put through another test, one that is more intense than the previous. This can be a "big middle scene" and involves some kind of turning point or revelation.
In the next test, Rapunzel and Flynn are trapped in a cave that's filling with water. Thinking they're about to die, Rapunzel and Flynn reveal secrets about themselves. Flynn shares his real name and Rapunzel admits that she has magic hair that glows when she sings.
7. Again, the action slows long enough for the pair to process the test they went through.
This allows for a moment of vulnerability. Rapunzel makes herself vulnerable by using her magic hair and saying she had never before left her tower. Flynn shares about his sad childhood and how he became who he is. And because of what they just went through together, we can understand why they're revealing these secrets to each other.
8. One of them is offered a chance to leave this path, but they choose to stay on it. This time for different reasons than originally.
Around this time Mother Gothel arrives and encourages Rapunzel to leave and come home with her. Originally when Rapunzel set out, all she cared about was seeing the floating lights. Flynn was to act as her guide—to take her to see the lights and to return her to her tower.
But now Rapunzel has been through a lot. She feels something for Flynn, and she's survived quite a bit since she started on her journey. Both these things give her the strength she needs to tell Mother Gothel that she won't be going back with her.
I like when characters are given a chance to undo a choice. When it's done well, it can really add to a story.
9. A glimpse of the happily ever after.
For a romance thread, this is a necessary building block for making your reader root for these two to be together. In Tangled, it's Flynn and Rapunzel enjoying the festivities and setting out on the boat to watch the lanterns. In The Hunger Games, it's Katniss and Peeta in the cave. In Pride and Prejudice (the movie version with Kiera Knightley) it's when Elizabeth and her Aunt and Uncle spend the day at Mr. Darcy's house, and we see them laughing together.
This scene is very effectively followed with:
10. The couple is ripped apart.
This is a third test, but this one they must go through as individuals. Often one of them doesn't have the whole story, and that's used against them. Sometimes neither person has the whole story.
In Tangled, the Stabbington brothers make it look like Flynn abandoned Rapunzel and she doubts that she knew him at all.
11. Each character is pushed back into their old world.
I really love this element of the Tangled story, and I've started noticing it in other stories as well. I think it makes the happy ending resonate stronger.
Rapunzel is taken back to the tower under the overbearing watch of Mother Gothel. Flynn is mixed up with the Stabbington brothers again and lands in jail. They each lived this life for years, but they've changed and now it chafes.
In the 2005 Pride and Prejudice adaptation, we have those lovely scenes where Elizabeth is back home and increasingly agitated with her family. She wants out of there—and she's pretty sure she threw away that opportunity months ago.
12. A rescue mission and final test.
I like how in Tangled, Rapunzel and Flynn take turns rescuing each other. He comes to her tower, but then he gets fatally wounded. She makes a deal to save him, and then he sacrifices himself to give her ultimate freedom.
Or in Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Darcy rescues the entire Bennett family by convincing Mr. Wickham to marry Lydia instead of just tarnishing her reputation and also by encouraging Mr. Bingley to try again with Jane.
13. The black moment.
This is where it looks like the odds might be too stacked against the couple for them to survive. Like when Flynn dies and Rapunzel's magic hair is gone. There's no chance now for them to have a happily ever after, is there?
Or in The Hunger Games, when it's announced that two people from the same district can't win, that there has to be one winner. Now to win, Katniss will have to kill Peeta. There's no possible way they can both survive this, is there?
And then we get that lovely, creative surprise of Rapunzel weeping magical tears. Hooray!
In The Hunger Games, Katniss beats the game by threatening to leave the Capitol with no winner. Quickly, the rule that was just reversed is now unreversed.
15. Togetherness achieved!
The reader (or viewer) need that glimpse of the happily ever after to leave them feeling like the journey was worth it.
In a book that has a sequel, like The Hunger Games, that final scene between the couple can also set the mood for the next book.
In your stories, have you had two characters who meet on the page and become close? Do you have additional tips to share on what has worked for you?