Let’s say you wanted to write a romantic comedy, and you wanted to use it to break in. What screenplays can you learn from now, in particular romantic comedies? Romantic comedies in Hollywood are very formulaic. They almost all follow many fairly rigid rules, one of them being that most Hollywood romantic comedies are about deception. It’s about the hero lying to somebody, and pretending to be somebody that they’re not is common. So you look at the successful romantic comedies to see what the examples are, and you try and stick with those.
Most romcoms suck because there’s the mistaken belief that a rom-com is about creating obstacles for two people to keep them apart. Otherwise, the film/book would be 12 minutes long. But that’s not the way it is in life. In life, It’s about figuring out how you can stay together once you’re together without killing each other. Bad romcoms focus on weak events that arbitrarily keep two people apart.
So it’s not about keeping them apart. It’s about realizing who you are and what you want. Moreover, it’s a wonderful moment when the characters don’t hate each other at first sight. They’re attracted to each other, but they have the masks in front of them. So most rom-com fail because they’re too busy trying to create arbitrary false obstacles, and they load their novels.
How to write a romantic comedy novel?
Let’s say a writer decides they would like to write a romantic comedy. It’s for not only the market but for their catharsis or needs to tell stories. So what should they know before putting one word down on the page about writing romantic comedies? One of the most important things to remember in writing romantic comedies is that it’s a three-part trip now, not necessarily three acts. But three things need to happen.
Initial spark: Boy meets girl, or loses girl. You got to have all that now. Or it can be girl meets boy, or loses boy. But you need to have that initial spark that we see them feeling for each other.
Searching for one another: The second part is about searching. Sparks are flying, then there is that split, and it’s over. After that, we spend quite some time watching one of them, at least trying to figure out how to get the other person back. So it’s that struggle to regain or claim what you saw in that first part of the film/book.
Reengaging: The third part is re-engaging and seeing how that works. In romantic dramas, the third party might not end well, and it might be a tragedy, and they don’t get together.
But even then, you want to feel what they have lost now in a romantic comedy. We want them to get back together. This echoes, interestingly enough, the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. Three parts of girl meet boy, and girl loses boy, girl gets boy back is an echo of the ancient Greek myth about Orpheus and Eurydice.
15 elements you should include in your romantic comedy novel
You may have noticed that romantic comedies are making a huge resurgence. So this is a great opportunity for you to write that romantic comedy you’ve maybe been thinking about or plotted some ideas for. We will talk about the 15 elements you should add to make sure you hit all of the different areas that people expect to see.
1. False love interest
In the beginning, you will have a false love interest, which means that your character will end up like every other story. Going through a transformation, they start one way. They have an epiphany. Maybe it’s related to the theme of your book, and in the end, they come out with a different, better version of themselves.
Now, this false love interest is not a bad person. It’s only someone reflective upon the person they currently are before the transformation. So it’s who they think they should be with. The values and actions of this person are reflected in their current state of being.
2. Meet cute
The second one is the meet-cute, which is a repeat of the top ten elements of romance. But the meet-cute for this is usually a little different. Sometimes it’s opposite tracks. It’s the rich person, the poor person. That’s a very popular kind of trope.
3. Bad first date
That is the third element of a romantic comedy, and there are different ways you can make this date go all types of wrong. So use your imagination there.
4. The kiss
It doesn’t necessarily have to be a kiss. Not saying this is an X-rated romantic comedy, but usually, there’s a kiss, something signifying this is not a friendship, but we’re probably a couple. Also, we’re moving in that direction.
5. Meeting the family
The family could be someone who is very against the union. It could be someone very excited for this union, a catalyst in different ways. Either way, it’s an excellent opportunity to inject some more humor into your novel.
6. Love montage
It’s where you see the couple falling in love. Great things are happening, little dates, cute gifts, friendly gestures, everything is copacetic and moving towards a big I love you, which means we’re setting up for a big fail.
7. Huge fight
The seventh part is usually somebody screws up at this point, and it could be the guy or girl. But either way, there’s a big blowup and a huge fight. Make sure that your character’s behavior doesn’t make any sense. If an average person would do it, your characters shouldn’t do it. You can do whatever you want, as long as the story ends happily. All conflict must be based on either a lie or a deliberate withholding of information.
It is the middle of your romantic comedy, which is the breakup. So immediately following the breakup, we have to see how miserable they are post-breakup without each other. There are tubs of ice cream and lots of sad love songs.
There’s always a breakup in rom-com. So don’t even try to argue with me. That’s what happens. You see the first half of the movie/book where everything is excellent, and we’re building up. Then you see the second half post-breakup, and what happens then?
9. Breakup montage
After a breakup, it should be a massive difference from the love montage. Think of this as the breakup montage where everyone’s sad and miserable and not as happy. Now, this doesn’t go on forever. Eventually, they scrape themselves off the floor and move on.
10. Family makeup
You go back to your family, and you reconcile. Maybe there is some lingering subplot or something you couldn’t do to click with your family. That is the beginning of your character’s transformation into a new person.
11. Career epiphany
The characters have a work epiphany, so maybe they were making a career. Again, a false career, not something they wanted. They’re more in touch with themselves, and they will start going after what they’re passionate about. This trope played out a lot with magazine writers who were writing puff pieces when they went into writing to become National Geographic editors or political activists.
You see this a lot with journalists. They may be writing puff pieces for a silly magazine when they went into journalism to write for National Geographic or political activism articles. Either way, they will quit that old job and move toward a new reality more in line with what they’re truly passionate about.
12. Flase love interest closure
The characters may backslide into hooking up with that old flame, that false start. But they’re on the road to transformation, which is the closure of that old relationship. They might try it out for a second, see if it fits, and realize that that’s not what they want.
Also, they have a heart to heart with this person or themselves to say, This is not who I am anymore, and I’m moving on to my new normal.
13. Role reversal in who is chasing who
Maybe the girl was pursuing the guy, but then the guy made a big screw-up, and now we are switching. So the guy is pursuing the girl. He realizes now that his career is back on track, his family is back on track, and he knows what he wants to do with this love life. She’s the one for him or vice versa.
14. A big gesture of apology
Think about saying anything where he held the boombox up or Trainwreck, where she danced with all of the New York Knicks cheerleaders. It proves that your love is so strong and unique that you’re willing to do something crazy and take a chance. Also, you embarrass yourself to prove to this person how much you love them.
15. Happily ever after
We get to see them back together and happy because you need to know that resolution afterward. That’s what your reader has been waiting for, and that’s what they deserve now.
Within romantic comedies, there is a make-over montage. It can sometimes happen in the beginning, right before the breakup has hurt dating. It can happen afterward as they’re cleaning themselves up. So you don’t have to have it. But is it something nice to add to your story if it fits into your storyline and plot?
You need high stakes in a romantic comedy. You can have stakes at the theme, plot, and character levels. The biggest place you need to have stakes in your romantic comedy is at the character level. You have to show that these characters belong to each other so much that if they don’t get together, their lives will be worthless.
You don’t do that by showing how happy they are together. You do that by picking characters that are so different that they change each other for the better. So you’ve to pick characters that are very different from each.
If you wanted to do a romantic comedy, the number one script you got to read is Working Girl. It is formulaic and follows all of the rules of structure, character arc, deception, and a love triangle where the hero competes with another person for the love of the romantic character. So that would be a good example there, and you can do the same thing with any other genre.
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