Romantic Comedies Are A Subgenre of COMEDY
You are writing a romantic comedy, but it's not working. Why? Maybe it's because you are following how to write a romance and not a comedy. Romantic comedies are a subgenre of comedy not romance.
Romantic comedies (rom-coms) are, and have always been my favorite genre in films & novels because they are funny, lighthearted, and have a romance in them. I find that most writers get confused about the comedy part, and to be honest, even some of the top film critics call movies like Sleepless in Seattle a rom-com when there is little to no comedy there, which bugs me, but I digress. (I love Sleepless in Seattle but it's not a comedy, it's a romance).
Take NEVER BEEN KISSED; it's a comedy with a romantic thread which is why it's a rom-com.
Let's look at the comedy that is there.
You have your comedic protagonist, Josie Geller. She is deeply flawed and keeps making the same mistakes hoping for different results. Steve Kaplan always says that a comedic protagonist lacks the skills and tools to change their situation.
Find out more about Steve Kaplan by clicking HERE. I can't recommend his books and courses enough for anyone writing comedy. I have taken them, I have helped him run his live workshops, and I continue to study with him as he is the best, hands down, expert on writing comedy.
If you don't have this in your protagonist, then off the bat, you aren't writing a comedy.
Let's look at Josie in more depth.
She's a nerd, let's face it. She doesn't date. She has never been kissed even. She was a geek in high school, and she is still one. When the story opens, she works as a copy editor and is one of those annoying people who corrects grammar-nerd/geek alert! Haha, but it's true. What does she want? She wants to be a reporter, but her boss and co-workers feel she doesn't have what it takes because she is all about rules and order, which keeps her stuck in this lonely place.
Kaplan also talks about the lie or the improbable or impossible thing that happens to launch the story. In Big (comedy), it's that Josh makes a wish on a Zoltar machine at a carnival and wakes up in his thirties. That can't happen. In Groundhog Day (rom-com) Phil wakes up every day on the same day. This is IMPOSSIBLE, but is happens.
In NEVER BEEN KISSED, Josie gets assigned an undercover reporter job at her old high school. Could that happen? Sure, but it's not likely.
She acts the way she did when she was in high school, thus repeating her old destiny. She thought she could get in with the cool kids but immediately became friends with the nerdiest girl in school and joined the athletes.
The meet-cute that happens and is needed in all rom-coms happens early on when she meets Mr. Coulson -her teacher. It's okay because she is really in her twenties. They do an excellent job with the story to not make anything happen, and he is attracted to her but pushes that down as she is too young. It's well done.
By the end of the film, Josie has grown and changed as a character, and while she has fallen in love and got her kiss, if that didn't happen, the story still would have worked because the comedy was first and it was about Jose and her growth. (It would have needed a different title, though)
This film is a straight-up ROMANTIC COMEDY in every sense of the word, but if you look it up, you will see that it's listed as a COMEDY first, then drama, then romance.
Another true romantic comedy that I love and often use in courses is
HOW TO LOSE A GUY IN TEN DAYS
Comedy first, with two flawed lead characters without the tools they need to succeed and have no knowledge of their own behavior, is causing all their problems.
Andie and Ben have goals that go against each other.
She is tasked with writing another "How To" column, which at the opening, we learn she wants to be a serious reporter. Ben is challenged to make a girl fall in love with him to prove that he understands women, which of course, he doesn't at all.
They both rely on cliches to reach their goals, and since the goals are opposing, there is comedy in what's happening. The audience is let in on the secret, and that's why we laugh.
Comedy first, romance second.
Both characters grow and change by the end. They both change.
Now, many films are called romantic comedies, and they aren't. Look at Hallmark movies--which I LOVE LOVE LOVE and always tune into the countdown to Christmas, but these are ROMANCES, even the ones that profess they are rom-coms; they aren't because they are only 10% comedy.
A Hallmark romance is 90% romance and may have 10% comedy, but comedy is not needed for these to work.
To end, I will say this if you love rom-coms, then you need to study them and pull them apart. Learn about the characters and what makes them funny.
Some of my favorites are:
YOU'VE GOT MAIL
HOW TO LOSE A GUY IN TEN DAYS
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING
NEVER BEEN KISSED
CRAZY RICH ASIANS
TWO WEEKS NOTICE
BRIDGET JONES'S DIARY
You also need to study and understand COMEDY
THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN
BEVERLY HILLS COP
THE SCHOOL OF ROCK
MEET THE PARENTS
And it can't hurt to study romance, but just know that it's how the comedy is told and that comedy must be present for it to be a rom-com. We used to call these films "chick-flicks" as girls liked them more but now they are all lumped into rom-com even if they aren't true comedies.
Some of my favorite romances
SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE
Now, go, write, be brilliant!!
I know you can do it!
Follow me on social @stephobourbon
You will find me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest