A woman in my screenwriting class has a script about a fairly famous historical romance, and has struggled a bit. There are several interesting scenes between the two main characters, but as we read through what seemed like the defining scene between the pair, something was missing.
I noodled on it a bit, and told her I thought what was missing was a Defining Line.
I’d never looked at it this way before now, but I think in the movies with really memorable romantic relationships have this. Not just a scene that defines the pair’s feelings for each other, but a specific, taut line withing that scene – like the point of the pin – where it is all laid bare.
Some examples. In Jerry Maguire you have Jerry’s famous line of “You complete me.” In As Good As It Gets, it is when Melvin says “You make me want to be a better man.” In Casablanca it is Rick saying “We’ll always have Paris.” In The Empire Strikes Back, it’s when Leia says she loves Han, and he replies “I know.”
In each case the line perfectly defines their relationship, and the line becomes memorable exactly because it is so perfect. It’s an incredibly difficult thing to do, but if you have a romantic climax in your movie, search out that line. Polish the scene until it comes out.
It’s too powerful to pass up, and may just make your good scene unforgettable.