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Something I always get stuck with is how to describe a first date. E.g. I have a story where 2 characters are on a blind date, so they have to get to know each other. How much of the date should be telling? How much should be showing? Is it okay to let the characters know each other through dialogue, even if it's mostly small talk? (where are you from, what do you do for a living etc..)

Cheers.

  • This question is a little borderline on "what to write" as well as a bit on the subjective side, but I will try to provide an objective answer. – ggiaquin16 Dec 1 '17 at 22:41
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    This is entirely up to you as the author. Think through your characters. Would they both be talking over each other on their first date, or just sit in awkward silence? – Alexander Dec 1 '17 at 23:02
  • Something concrete and memorable and defining. Like one character removes their prosthetic leg and the other character had no idea... Where does that conversation go? – DPT Dec 2 '17 at 2:53
  • It depends. (read: it's opinion based). – Mephistopheles Dec 2 '17 at 21:04
  • I've been married for nigh on 10 years, I can't even remember what our first date was let alone what conversation there was. I'm assuming it was entertaining though because a second obviously followed. A date night ten years down the track though - that's filled with enjoyable silence and the sound of chewing as we actually get to eat a nice meal without children – Thomo Dec 4 '17 at 22:23
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Show as much dialog in a first-date scene as you would in any scene: enough to make the scene deliver what you want it to deliver.

Show only the parts of the date that serve the purpose of the scene. The parts that reveal the character's awkwardness, confidence, bad luck, whatever. Skip all else.

The whole scene could even be just a single sentence, without dialog or action, told in retrospect: "I'll tell you what, the guy showed up wearing clown shoes but it was the best date ever." This might be enough to tell the reader what we need to know about the guy and about the narrator at this point in the story.

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Awkward talks, no words, a night full of talking, all are realistic parts of a potential first date let alone a blind one. This also greatly depends on their personalities. Is one shy? is one aggressive? Is one talkative? Too talkative and doesn't give the other a chance to talk? Do they both have common interests or nothing at all? Are they both attractive? Does one find the other attractive but not the other way around? All of these elements go into a first date.

It is said that usually, people know within the first 5 minutes whether or not this person is worth their time, getting a second date, spending the night together, if it's just a one-night thing, long-term thing, or a casual nothing serious thing.

So ultimately, the answer depends on you the writer and how you want it to go, and how their pesonalities will contribute to the interaction. First dates can have as much or as little talking as desired.

Jessica was fidgeting with the cloth napkin; She has never been to a five star restaurant before and did not want to order anything too expensive and stammered in reply "I don't really know what I want."

"Maybe I can help! I hear the Salmon with wild rice is amazing but I usually order one of their steaks."

"But.. That is so expensive! Anyways... I am actually alegric to fish... the steak does look good but I couldn't ask you to spend $100 just for a steak."

"Good thing you told me you are alergic, I was actually going to order some fish this time but I will avoid it. I don't want you to have a bad night on our first date. Don't worry about the costs though okay? I want you to enjoy yourself and the night. I guess Katy didn't tell you but I am an engineer for my profession and actually eat here often. So please, pick what you want okay?" He was trying to get her to relax. Though they were both nervous, it was clear Katy did not provide her much information about him and she was out of her element.

"Oh! No... Katy didn't tell me much about you besides that you are a good-looking, hard working man and that she thinks we would be really good for each other. Are you sure I can order anything?" Jessica was feeling a little relieved to hear that he was not stretching his wallet for this date.

As you can see the dialog does a lot to disclose information about each other to each other that may or may not already be known by the readers for a heavy dialog scene. So have fun with it! Imagine your first blind date and what it would be like for you or just even a first date in general! Imagine the date with them as it relates to their personalities! As I said, it ultimately depends on you and how you want the dynamics to go. My example may or may not work for your situation, but I provided one to show you how dynamics could be written.

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I would avoid the "fact based" small talk (where are you from, what's your job, etc). I would not even tell about it, unless it is critical to the plot. I'd just dismiss that as five minutes of awkward biography before we came to a real question.

As a general rule, always make your dialogue contested, challenged, conflicted, whatever you want to call it. That is interesting to read about.

Even in a first date situation, isn't it best when you get into friendly debate (on some topic you aren't going to get angry about)?

Isn't what is interesting about somebody the attitudes or likes or dislikes you wouldn't have expected? The funny stories of their childhood acting career? The haircut they now find the most embarrassing? What is the dumbest compliment you ever gave a date? What fruit flavor do you hate the most?

Some of these are conflicted as challenges to reveal information the other may not wish to reveal, which can create some real conflict, light-hearted conflict by a refusal to reveal or changing the subject.

Of course, if the first date is to go badly, somebody misreads these attempts to find some humorous common ground as interrogation and shuts down; then the conflict is more real and harsh: I'm not having fun and want to leave; this guy/girl is being too nosy; or too crude or too insulting. Negative tensions are easier, positive tension (friendly verbal wrestling) is more difficult, but should be possible if you built your characters to like each other.

Always try to keep some tension in your dialogue, the tension is conflict. If you want the date to go well, the tension is light hearted and funny: I'll show you mine if you show me yours, but as that applies to worst date, shortest date, dumbest venue, or whatever else has happened in their lives.

If the romance is central to the plot, some of these answers can be put to good use later in the plot, for humor or serious purpose (she really DID get to know something personal about her date that helped her find him, for example.)

  • See and this is why I believe this question is highly subjective, though I think your assertion about what is interesting on a first date is only applicable to the dynamics which enjoy that kind of tension. I know many people who would be far too embarrassed to state these kinds of stories on a first date. Later on? sure! You are at least more comfortable... but a blind first date, probably not as much. But again... this plays into the subjective world of dynamics and personalities. This can be really good advice for some, and a nightmare date for others. – ggiaquin16 Dec 1 '17 at 23:37
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    @ggiaquin Then that creates negative tension for an incompatible couple, I addressed that pretty fully. In the event neither character wants tension, the date is a bust for the author and the entire thing should be covered in a few paragraph summary, because readers will not enjoy a boring date with no tension, even if that is what the characters want. I will agree to the extent the author should write whatever THEY find to be an entertaining and fun date (or disaster of a date), but nothing in-between. Tension is necessary for reader interest, or don't write it out. – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Dec 1 '17 at 23:45
  • @ggiaquin Fun questions ARE a way of getting to know each other. As far as a blind date is concerned, I'd say sure, they need to get to know each other, but the easiest way to find out if we are compatible is to see if we can find some common ground on funny. Because if we cannot the first date is the last date. The questions can be pop culture, just semi-personal. Who is your funniest comedian? What's your best show on TV? Best movie to watch a third time? Best actor? Favorite role for that actor? Best band? (not in rapid fire, just examples of starters, to lead to conversation). – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Dec 1 '17 at 23:58
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Remember that (a) what would make for a pleasant first date, (b) what people really say and do on a typical first date, and (c) what makes an interesting story, are entirely different things.

In real life, on a typical day I make myself breakfast and go to work. I have never, ever been attacked by ninja assassins before work. But which story would you rather read, a detailed account of someone making scrambled eggs and searching for matching socks? Or a story about a spy being attacked by ninja assassins?

On real first dates, I've chatted about the weather and our jobs and what kind of food we each like to eat. Most of my typical date conversation would make a very boring story. I tell some hopefully funny stories that might possibly be interesting in a novel, but that's a small fraction of real people date conversation. I recall a recent date that consisted largely of a discussion of travel plans and flight schedules and how the airline had changed the schedule and so on. Important to us as real people, but surely would be super boring in a story.

What you want to cut to is: What information should these two people exchange that will advance the plot or help to develop the characters? If it's important to the story that Bob is a Republican and Sally is a Democrat, then have them discuss politics. If this has nothing to do with the story, then skip it. Etc.

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