On July 27, 2021, i writing wrote, Quick question about clichés—or one in particular—the MC of my middle-grade novel meets her love interest by literally crashing into him. They both fall over, she gets a look at him, stammers her way through an apology, and walks off in a pleasantly surprised daze. Is this a super-cliche way for two love interests to meet?
Christie V Powell answered with this: It’s certainly a well used trope, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s clichéd. You can find a way to use it, especially if you play with it a bit.
This is TVTropes’ page for “Playing with Crash Into Hello”, which defines different ways that the trope could be used: https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/PlayingWith/CrashIntoHello.
I love Christie V Powell’s link. My fav is the wallet one.
And I agree with her all the way. Whether a trope will be tired or not depends on the way it’s handled. Here’s a super early prompt: Read the ones on the link and then list five other ways to fool with the collision-meets-cute romcom starter.
One way we can use a trope—any trope—in a way that will boost its originality and lower its profile is to make it do more than one thing in our story.
Character development: Matt bumps into Sara. She apologizes. He says, “Whatever.” With great economy, we’ve revealed a bit of the characters of each of them. Our plot gets a boost too, because, if these two are going to fall for each other, we sure have a story arc to think about.
To develop our characters, we consider what we want this encounter to reveal about them. How can we make the crash show them at their best, their worst, or their most typical?
To develop our plot: Sara is a werewolf whose shifts are set off by the unexpected. When Matt bumps into her, she begins to transform.
Here, we use the meet-cute to reveal what we know about our story.
To develop our setting: Matt has been wandering through the minotaur’s labyrinth for days. Sound travels weirdly in here. Several times, the minotaur has almost been upon him before he heard its booming steps. Now, he thinks he hears lighter—human?—footfalls, but where? Oof!
Here, in the lead-up to the collision, the reader learns about the quality of sound in the labyrinth.
This is fun!
In each of these, readers may not even notice that this is a meet-cute-by-collision device at all.
But if I ask myself whether it’s best to avoid tropes entirely so we don’t need to think of workarounds to make them original, I’m not sure. The whole meet-cute thing is a trope too, but how many romances start by two people reading Kierkegaard in a Philosophy class? (As you may have read somewhere because it’s a good (true) story, David and I had a cute—sort of—moment when he set his hair on fire during our first date.)
Tropes become tropes by being repeated, and they’re repeated because they’re good. They may even go back to a primordial story shape that satisfies humans like nothing else. We complicate them to bring in originality, and the complications are part of the plot process. A story arc could even be described as a pattern of rising complexity—up, up, up—‘til we reach the crisis, and then lowering—down, down, down—until what’s left comes into sharp focus in the resolution. I don’t know if we can avoid tropes—so why worry?
However, if we want to try, we can start to think, as we should anyway, about the characters of the two. What’s going on in their lives? What are the conflicts, the trajectory of the story they’re already on that romance hasn’t yet entered?
Let’s suppose that Sara joined the debate team at her high school in hopes of reducing her terror at public speaking. Matt uses the auditorium to study because his friends don’t go there, and he can tune out whatever is going on onstage. He’s not doing well in his European History class because he can’t keep straight all the little countries and the wars and the dates.
To Sara, Matt is just there during her debate practice, a helpful presence because she can see he’s oblivious to whatever she says and how badly she says it. He’s not aware of her at all. His family is very invested in his education. An F will put a serious dent in their hopes for him and his hopes for himself. Both run in different crowds, and their friendships bring in other conflict that are part of the story. The reader cares about the two characters but doesn’t see a connection between them, which when it comes, is gradual. They stand next to each other in the cafeteria line in a moment when their friends aren’t around. Matt, who isn’t comfortable with silence, tells her he likes the pea soup. She nods. And so on. Their brief contacts are always pleasant. When he flunks his History midterm, he sees her at the school lockers and says something, just because she seems nice. That’s the meet-not-especially-cute, but it grows from there.
A great example of no trope at all is in Jane Austen’s Emma, because the eponymous heroine has known the future love interest her whole life. There is no meeting.
Here are four prompts based on the scenarios above, plus one that isn’t:
- Matt bumps into Sara. She apologizes. He says, “Whatever.” Write the scene that follows and the whole romance, if you like.
- Write this one: Sara is a werewolf whose shifts are set off by the unexpected. When Matt bumps into her, she begins to transform.
- And/or this one: Matt has been wandering through the minotaur’s labyrinth for days. Sound travels weirdly in here. Several times, the minotaur has almost been upon him before he heard its booming steps. Now, he thinks he hears lighter—human?—footfalls, but where? Oof!
- Or the non-trope one of the debate-anxious Sara and the history-challenged Matt.
- Your MC meets the villain of your story by colliding with her. Write the scene. If you like, continue to write the whole tale.
Have fun, and save what you write!