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This week: The Elements of Romantic ComedyEdited by: Lonewolf
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Romantic comedies concern the continual battle between comfort and longing, between fear and desire. We all can be terrified of intimacy, pain, or loss, so we shut down emotionally in one way or another. But the beauty and power of a romantic comedy is that we can identify with a hero facing the same eternal struggle.
Comedy is most effective when common, everyday themes are given an obscure twist, which helps us to see comedic events in our lives that we normally would not recognize. Romantic comedy is not about laughing at other people, it is about laughing at ourselves. Falling in love is a huge challenge, because if it does not go smoothly (and no romantic comedy will go smoothly) it challenges all we like to believe about ourselves. And this is a positive mine of comedy material because we ALL do silly things when we are falling in love.
WRITING THE CHEMISTRY
We go into a romantic comedy already knowing that our leads are going to meet, lose and, ultimately, get each other. So creating two unique characters our readers will fall in love with and NEED to see united is the most important key to the stories success. All great characters have purpose and credibility, are empathic and complex. But romantic comedy leads have additional requirements. They're emotionally incomplete people who are completed by their mate-to-be. One (if not both) of your protagonists should have an inner conflict that the story's romantic relationship confronts and ultimately resolves. So whether your couple be made up of opposites, or two sides of the same coin, write compelling characters -- who believably belong together.
EXPAND YOUR STORY'S GENRE
What most people think of when they hear 'romantic comedy' is a man and a woman trading witty barbs across a restaurant table. But this kind of typical talking-heads fare is far from the genre as can be. In fact, some of the most successful romantic comedies are hybrids -- stories that have gone on to become movies. They expanded their audience by cross-breeding with other genres. Romantic comedies can be action-adventures such as ('Romancing the Stone'), gender-benders ('She's the Man'), sport comedies ('Happy Gilmore'), ghost stories ('The Ghost and Mrs. Muir'), political ('Dave'), period pieces ('Kate and Leopold'), crime stories ('Excess Baggage'), teen movies ('Clueless') and more. This kind of cross-genre inter-breeding has kept the romantic comedy's genre healthy for decades, and it's something to think about as you shape your romantic comedy with an eye towards the marketplace. You may already be edging into another genre's territory in your story. If so, maximize that element and plunder all it has to offer.
THE HUMOR IN A ROMANTIC COMEDY
The characters in a romantic comedy never think their situation is humorous. They are desperate to achieve their goals, and terrified by the conflicts they face. When the people in the story are laughing, the readers aren't.
The driving motivations in romantic comedies actually grow out of immense pain and loss. The plots of the most successful romantic comedies of all time involve unemployment, disease, prostitution, physical abuse, physical deformity, humiliation, ridicule, the loss of one's children, attempted assassination, suicide and death.
The humor then arises from the way the heroes OVER-REACT to their situations. They devise fantastic plots, pose as women, adopt false identities, juggle two lovers simultaneously, tell enormous lies, fly across the country to meet a voice on a radio, or do everything imaginable to sabotage their best friend's wedding.
ROMANTIC MEANS SEXY AND COMEDY MEANS FUNNY
Everybody remembers the 'fake orgasm in the deli' scene from 'When Harry Met Sally.' But can you remember any similar scene from a romantic comedy in the dozen years since, that was just as raunchy and hilarious? Not many come to mind, which may be why some recent romantic-comedies that have pushed the erotic envelope have really scored with their audiences. The zipper scene from 'There's Something About Mary,' the dress straps that break in 'Jerry Maguire', the pie incident from "American Pie" It's successes like these that show humor to be found in sexual situations is well worth pursuing. So, mine that humor gold. Activate intimacy -- which is what truly erotic and funny encounters are about: people being vulnerably, painfully exposed, whether it's literally, metaphorically or both. At the same time, don't forget that any comedy should provide at least a couple of truly funny set- pieces. Has your romantic conflict gotten so serious, and is light on laughs? Find the humor in it and maximize. Steep your characters in painful, truth-baring situations, and look for gags to build bigger gags on.
Start by asking yourself, "What terrifies your character emotionally?" Is it emotional commitment? Risking the loss of security? Losing one's status and image? Touching someone, both literally and figuratively? Or perhaps simply not being good enough, attractive enough or competent enough?
When you recognize your character's greatest fear, ask a second question: "What are they doing to avoid confronting that fear?" Whatever the answer, whatever protection your character has created, is what Inner Conflict is. Then recognizing and overcoming this inner conflict is the path to growth for your character.
Conscious or not, the lies in romantic comedies are always designed to protect the protagonist's image. Better to lie to the person they love than to expose the unworthy person they believe themselves to be.
But of course, the character's deception can never work, because it is only by standing up for who they truly are that they can achieve real fulfillment and self worth, and connect with the love of their life. The romance character is truly the hero's destiny; it is the reward for finding the courage to grow and change.
Romantic comedies almost always have happy endings. In the rare instance where the hero doesn't get the girl, the audience still feels that the resolution is the best, and most appropriate, for the story.
Excerpt of Bentridge Magic Chapter 1
"No, I do not care for a drink. What I would like is some space," Gabby hissed without looking up from the book she'd been trying to read for the last half-hour or more. Every time she tried to read someone interrupted her. Normally she might be flattered by the attention but this was going to be her last few free minutes before she left on assignment and all she wanted to do was relax. She'd spent the last three days at the hotel in Los Angeles and was due to fly out to the Bahamas shortly.
"Oh, darlin' I'd love to share that space with you," a deep seductive drawl said as the man sat down on the chaise next to her.
At this bold approach her head snapped up. Gabby found herself staring into the most gorgeous green eyes she'd ever seen on a man or a woman. They were made even more mesmerizing by a thick head of black hair. But he was a man and she'd been pestered all afternoon by some man vying for her attention. As she glared at him his lips parted in a smile that probably would have melted a lesser woman, but Gabby had reached her limit.
"I am not your darlin'," she said with as much contempt as she could muster. "If you'll take a stroll around the pool, I'm sure you will be able to find someone willing to share her space with you. As you can see, I'm trying to read." With this she tried to resume her reading.
Should you read Ginny in a Perfect World, you'll see a writing exercise at the end of the story that is worth trying.
Excerpt of Ginny in a Perfect World
"I know, Virginia. And I hate to have to do this. We didn't think this would happen, and you're one of the best young lawyers we've got, but with the loss of the Pindler case..."
She didn't want to hear any more. Blah, blah, blah. Bruce Hannigan was the third blue suit explaining sweet nothings to her. If Brubaker, Brubaker and Hannigan had hired her permanently last month, as they should have, she wouldn't be in this mess. Pressing her thumbnail into her pinkie finger, she struggled to prevent herself from frantically pounding her right foot up and down into the plush green carpet. She shifted her weight to the left in her chair.
Oh how she wanted to slap the stubby little man before her. His impending microbrewery beer belly strained the buttonholes of his striped, imported dress shirt. But she managed restraint and found herself standing abruptly instead, saying, "It's quite alright, Michael. I've suddenly realized that I don't have any reason to panic. You and the Brubakers will give me excellent references. It's been a pleasure working with you." Coolly she presented her hand, and Michael Hannigan relaxed, swallowing her slender, manicured fingers with his thick, oily palms.
Excerpt of Analogies
"Women are like jawbreakers. They start out hard, but the longer you work at it, the softer they get."
"No, they're not," rebutted Jake loudly and laughingly. "They're nothing like jawbreakers."
"Yes they are," Dan said, determined to defend his analogy even against someone like Jake, who was practically royalty as far as drama class was concerned. Cast in a lead in every show the department could come up with, Jake was full of a talent that almost matched his over-sized ego. In fact, if there was a runoff competition for who was the most self-centered jack - excuse me - donkey on the planet, it would be stiff competition between Jake and Scott, his cousin. Whichever one won, the other would come in a close second place, serving as runner up in case for any reason the winner could not fulfill his duties as center of the universe. If Jake was a drama king, Scott was the prince who either didn't believe or chose to ignore that he wasn't king already. Jake had two months left before he graduated high school, leaving Scott as successor to his throne. Scott, who never for a moment thought he didn't already have the drama throne, did not seem unduly excited.
Excerpt of The Affairs of Dragons
"I saw you with him again."
"Oh for the love of-"
"Don't deny it. I'm tired of you denying it. Just admit that you're interested in him."
"Gilbraith, for the last time, I am not-"
"It's because he's younger, isn't it? You think I'm too old. You don't find me attractive anymore."
"It's only a few years. He's not that much-"
"It's three thousand years! He flashes that cocky smile with those fresh, white teeth and you just ache for the days when I looked like that."
"Now you're just-"
"No, I'm not," Gilbraith growled, turning his massive, serpentine body to face his mate, and giving her a baleful glare. There wasn't a great deal of room in their lair, what with the pile of coins and jewels that dominated the center of the yawning cavern. The two of them had spent the past few millennia gathering their loot and hoarding it away in this cave, but as the pile grew, the distance between the two great beasts did as well. Once, they had shared the center of the chamber... peacefully entwined in one another's bodies each night. Now a mountain of cold metal separated them.
Excerpt of The Secret Past Life of Cupid
Psst. Psssssst! Yeah you, come here. I've seen you lookin' 'round and askin' questions for most of the day. You a reporter or sumpthin'?
No? Just a really curious writer, eh?
Well have I gotta fantastic story fer you! Now ya can't let anyone know that it was me that told ya, 'kay? Ya sure? Whew, Great! I just gotta get this offa my chest, 'cause after a few hunderd years of bein' the only one tah know this, 'sides Cupid an' my dear wifey, I am about to BURST! We elves are pretty good at keepin' secrets but this one is just waaaaaaaay too juicy to keep!
You look thata way, an' I'll look thisa way... Anyone around lookin' at us? No? Yer sure? Slip in here and we can talk secret-like and sip some hot chocolate with those mini marshmallows in it.
Here we are, ahhhhh, that's better. Lots warmer in here, ain't it? I thought yer teeth would clatter outa yer mouth if I didn't get yer butt out from the arctic blast. Sit down and take a load off while I stoke the fire. Can you toss a couple o' logs on the fire while I look fer that durn poker? Good, good, thanks a heap. Now where did I put that poker? Oh yeah, there it is under the kitchen table - pesky mice!
There we go. Hang on a sec an' I'll whip up a quick batch of hot chocolate fer us. That's mighty good stuff, here ya are. Them new fangled microwaves sure are handy, ain't they? Plop on that there plaid sofa and I'll just hop into my leather lazyboy here. I hope ya don't mind ifin' I take off these shoes, those jingle jangle bells get on my nerves after a while. Hup one, oooooh almost lost an ear there, dint ya, heh. Hup two... Oh yeeeeeaaaaaaaa. That's soooooooo much better. Let's get comfy and cozy while I lay this unbelievable story on ya. Feel free tah kick them uncomfortable lookin' shoes off and set them tootsies on that there wooden chest we here use as a coffee table. Wifey taint here tah get all ruffled an' you can keep 'em warmer up there near the fire. Relaxed? Me too, so let's git tah the good stuff, eh?
Excerpt of One Night in Vegas
I woke up this morning to find a stranger in my bed
With dark hair and dark eyes and lips like peach wine
He tossed and turned, yawned and stretched,
And said 'good morning' with a 'sweetheart' at the end
He reached up to kiss me and I shrank back in fear
So worried about this stranger that I fell right off the bed
He looked at me with concern and then burst out laughing
'Funny honey,' he said with a giggle and went to the loo.
I tried to think fast, who this stranger could be
He was dreadfully handsome, just my type you can see
But oh, my poor head how it ached to think so
When I knew not this stranger or who I was also.
Was it Amy, or Beth or Susan or Mary?
Annabel or Casey or Kristen or Daisy?
'Where's my tie, honey?' came the loud question.
Oh phooey, I thought, could it really be Honey?
Excerpt for Computer Dating
The cursor blinked in the corner of the screen like an empty, broken heart. When the person at the keyboard pressed the keys he danced with the movements of letters, numbers and punctuation marks. He was happy to be moving across the white fields of someone's literary thoughts. The little flashing bar especially liked the dancing when the writer was a poet in love.
Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate...
For the cursor this was love, a romantic interlude into the blissful world of real relationships.
I know what you are thinking, the cursor is just a flash on the screen to tell the writer where his words lie on the screen. How insensitive of you. Do you not think that our little blinking buddy doesn't react to our words of love? Does he not smile when you are happy and frown when you are sad? Do your letters not become big when you press the Caps Lock button?
Bob, my magical, bouncing cursor shares everything I write about. He happily blinks when I put him through the letters of my romantic stories, poems, and mushy emails. The more excited I get the brighter he winks. Some nights when I can't find anything to write about I watch as his secret messages pulsate on my screen... and one night he asked me if I would please download a fireplace screen saver so him and Irene, the computer generated icon, could have a romantic evening of their own.
Excerpt of Date with a Proctologist
Max Paley was vulnerable to critical remarks. For that reason he was hesitant to make the first move. It had been three years since his wife Dorothy's death and he hadn't had a single date yet, if you don't count the ladies, his wife's old golfing buddies in the club. To tell the truth, he didn't count them as dates because there were six of them, all over the age of seventy, and he was sure they were talking behind his back, comparing notes. He had stopped calling them. But they called him now and then, and he attended functions with them only because they used to be his wife's friends and they lived in the same neighborhood.
Well now, this was Florida. There were more old ladies than elderly sophisticated gentlemen like Max. The younger widows were more popular just because they were younger, looked slightly better, didn't wear Depends, and didn't forget where they put their keys. Max wanted to have a regular companion like Dorothy, whom he could lean on but who wouldn't die on him like Dorothy did. He didn't care for looks, youth, or riches. What he needed was companionship and someone to coax him when he needed coaxing.
Max had been in the company of friends, men and women alike, but just like Dorothy, most of them had taken off into the unknown realm. For a while there, Max had not wanted to get too close to people for fear that they'd die on him, but he was over that fear now and he ached for company.
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