How To Write Your 8 Story Beats & Then Add To Them
If you are writing or have written a romantic comedy you will want to know your main story beats. Here are some practical tips for outlining and or revising, these work for novels, and screenplays!
Let's talk about why the story beats are so important. Honestly, some writers have never heard of these and or understand what they are or why you need them.
I want to add that if you want to be a rebel and do your own thing, go right ahead and prove us all wrong, and that it can be done. I love things that work outside of the box but for the most part, the story beats are what hold your story together. They are also the main beats that people remember when they talk about your story or even think about it later.
In a romantic comedy, there are 8 story beats that must be there for it to work.
Here they are in order, well, except two of them are fluid and marked with an *
Introduction to your protagonist
The inciting incident *
The meet-cute (a MUST in all romantic comedies) *
The new reality/new world
The mirror moment/recommitment
The crisis/all is lost (this can be two)
NOTE-both the inciting incident and the meet-cute can move around in a rom-com, but the inciting incident MUST be before the quarter mark/new world or new reality.
The meet-cute should be as close to that mark as possible but can happen before or after, that depends on the story you are writing.
After you nail these, you add to them by putting in the scenes or beats, that connect them. Many writers just write and don't think about connecting everything, and often, especially with comedy people write the "wouldn't it be funny if..." scenes. Oy vey, please don't ever write anything because you think it would be funny. The best way to write comedy is to stop trying to be funny. If you have the right characters, and a great comedic premise, and develop them well, it will be funny because of them.
Check out Steve Kaplan's courses HERE and books, The Hidden Tools of Comedy & The Comic Hero's Journey to learn more about writing comedy and last week's post about rom-coms being a sub-genre of comedy, not romance. READ IT HERE
Remember that every scene you write must move the story forward. If you don't understand this concept, watch your favorite movie or TV show and write down all the scenes and you will see how they connect. A lot of scenes aren't written but we fill them in.
For example in FRIENDS, The One With The Embryos, it starts with Rachel coming home from the store (after the opening before the credits, with her being woken up by Joey and Chandler's rooster), what scene isn't there? Rachel at the grocery store. It's not needed.
What is needed is her putting away the groceries and Joey & Chandler guessing what she has, which launches them into a contest and game, ultimately causing them to lose their apartment to the boys.
In Legally Blonde the scenes and beats are as such.
Meet Elle Woods in her dorm, and we see that it's a big date coming up. Then we see her in a shop proving how smart she is when a shopgirl calls her a "ditz with a credit card" (introduction)
Warner breaks up with her (inciting incident)
Goes to Harvard & meets Warner with Vivian (new world)
Meets Emmett (meet-cute)
Buys a new computer (mirror moment/reflection & recommitment)
Callahan hits on her (crisis) & Vivian sees and accuses her (all is lost)
Elle tries the case (Climax)
Elle graduates at the top of her class with Emmett by her side (Resolution)
Now, what scenes happen between all of these? The main ones.
~Between 1 & 2-Elle and Warner go on the date
~Between 2 & 3-Elle studies and takes the test for law school
~Between 3 & 4-Elle gets kicked out of class because of Vivian
~Between 4& 5-Elle goes to a party and Warner tells her that she'll never be smart enough
~Between 5 & 6-Elle gets put in Callahan's group to try a real case
~Between 6 & 7-Elle with the help of Paulette and her professor come up with a plan
~Between 7 & 8-Elle wins her case using her past experiences proving she is smart
See how all the scenes we see move the story forward? We don't see Elle studying once she is at Harvard, we don't see her doing her hair, taking Bruiser for walks, we see her doing what she needs to do to get to the end.
When you set out to write a new story if you nail these story beats down--again, without trying to be funny or writing jokes---you will have a solid recipe for your story. Many times writing down the first 8 will show you how it's not working or won't work.
Whether you are writing a screenplay or a novel I recommend two more books.
Write Your Novel From The Middle by James Scott Bell
The Plot Whisperer by Martha Alderson
I know that you can do it!!
Your assignment, should you choose to do it, is to watch your favorite show or movie and write down the main beats, or even better do it from memory.
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