In the third ‘Forced Proximity’ post of our romance tropes series, Rebecca Morean tells us how a Prius brought her couple together.
The phrase ‘forced proximity’ has a nice scientific ring to it—like there might be laws or rules involved. In my novel the mechanism of force is a Prius. And yes, it hums. But it also provides a perfect venue for conversation while offering physical limits. If you can create tension between characters, chaos in a small space can be dramatic, funny, uncomfortable or, ultimately, intimate.
In We’ve Got This, the tension builds as Kate spends much of her energy hiding secrets and Ryan expends soulful efforts to unveil truths. While this story could be set in Boston, throwing the two into the backwoods of Vermont immediately turns them into a couple and creates danger in and of itself when they get into trouble. There is no one around to save them. Having Ryan and Kate spend a lot of time in a Prius also opens the door to wonderful dialogue and magnifies every move, look, shrug and touch they offer each other.
The Prius also forces two people together who otherwise never would have met: she’s a high school teacher, he’s a movie star. But from the moment she picks him up at the airport, they are together, forced to relate. As they discuss female-male relationships he learns a lot about her. As he is People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive pick of the year, she thinks she knows all about him. What the forced proximity proves is that she doesn’t.
Forcing characters together makes every moment drip with meaning. Even where Ryan sits, moving from the back seat to the front, becomes symbolic and important to how they relate. When he becomes ill and dehydrated, the forced proximity turns funny, and again, having them together in a tight setting puts the focus solely on the characters and accentuates their differences. The dialogue is swift, and defenses are down. He’s delirious, she’s practical. He moans, she rallies. Just being in the car sets the boundaries for action and what each character can do. And Kate’s a mess driving in the middle of nowhere: dropping the phone, trying to take his pulse, talking to the ER doctor, staying cool, all the while trying not stare at the gorgeous man sweating and panting in the back seat of her car.
I can think of countless other stories in which forced closeness forces characters to open up. Nora Ephron put Harry and Sally together in a car for a road trip. There’s Thelma and Louise. In Six Days Seven Nights, Harrison Ford is stuck on an island with Anne Heche. And in real life, the man who became my friend’s second husband ended up spending four days and three nights with her in her home on 100 acres in Vermont…thanks to an ice storm. They had only been out to dinner once before. She said it was all those little things over those four days that added up so right. A real-life forced proximity story…
Stephen King once said that all a writer had to do was put two people in a room and see what happens. I agree. Two people anywhere, alone, is interesting.
A Cinderella story about mothers and movie stars, mud boots and Manolo Blahniks, and dreams that do come true.