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Welcome To Rom Com Hell: 8 Awful Ways To Write Romantic Comedy

Rom Com / Real Life Hell

Rom Com was always one of those genres I avoided through my teens and early twenties. Being a Goth, I was way too cool for boy-meets-girl, obviously. Besides which, by 18 I was a total cynic … I had after all been the girl who’d met the boy, then got knocked up and ripped off by him! I’d been left with a broken heart, a wailing baby and a man-hating attitude problem for approximately five years.  I was also of the (not unreasonable) belief that post-FOUR WEDDINGS in the late 90’s/early noughties that all Romantic Comedies had Hugh Grant in.

Then Something Strange Happened

Rom Coms started to get good and I actually started to fancy Hugh Grant. My mother (who’s always fancied Hugh Grant to my memory) tells me this is nothing to do with the actual Rom Coms, but the fact I am now OVER-TWENTY FIVE (ugh).

Those of us OVER-TWENTY FIVE (which apparently should always be in caps) have a number of afflictions apparently; these include the Hugh Grant fixation, but also reminiscing DR WHO was better when its antagonists were made of cardboard instead of CGI, knowing all the words to R Whites’ “I’m a secret lemonade drinker” and thinking RIDE OF THE VALYKRIES is actually the theme tune to “Kill The Rabbit”.

But I digress …

Romantic Comedy is one those genres that never goes away, but it is hard to find good ones in the spec pile. But it is always in demand. It can usually attract a sizeable audience, plus it can be made to fit a low budget too. That’s the beauty of Rom Com I’ve come to realise over the years – literally anything can go into it! This is because Rom Com’s inevitability is its strength.

What I ridiculed before I now admire: after all, we KNOW boy will meet girl, lose girl, have to impress girl and eventually get girl, but how many different ways can it be done? Take a look at your Netflix queue and you will see the answer is LOTS OF WAYS!

Something ‘Extra’

Okay, some of those Rom Coms will be not so good … But just as many will be okay, some of them fantastic. Those in that latter category have one thing in common. They share the genre’s inevitability, but present it in such a fashion its audience:

  • have never seen before and
  • are kept guessing as to how that common framework is going to pan out.

Rom Com expert Billy Mernit is of the opinion there is that “something extra” that keeps the good Rom Coms going in addition to ‘boy-meets-girl’. I agree. Now he’s the expert on the good ones as far as I’m concerned, but as a reader I’ve seen some royally bad Rom Coms over the years. So, in my humble opinion, what makes a bad Rom Com? Since a lot of you are writing ’em, I thought another of my lists was in order, just in case you recognise any of these…

1. The “Mistaken Identity”

When the plot hinges on, guess what, a case of mistaken identity. This usually means the story revolves entirely around the protagonist pretending to be a different colour or race and painting themselves (which no one else in the movie notices), only to have a bucket of water splashed over them at the end. OMFG. (2018 editthank the heavens THIS one has finally disappeared!!). MORE: 5 Important Elements Of Writing A Romantic Comedy

2. The “World’s A Tragic Place”

This is when cynics (like I was!) try and write Rom Coms. Boy might meet girl but no one gets together at the end, or if they do it’s to someone supposedly unexpected or someone who suddenly appears out of nowhere. Ultimately dissatisfying.

3. The “I’ve Forgotten What Genre I’m In”

I’ve read several of these where the action starts off well in terms of Rom Com, but it becomes a melodrama halfway through usually because someone dies – I can only imagine the writers were attempting to mirror Simon Callow’s exit in Four Weddings.

4. The “Everyone Is Doing It”

This is the Rom Com where everyone is having sex. All the time. Fun, but plotless for the most part. Rom Coms are not porno, remember!

5. The “Coming of Age/ Rom Com Hybrid”

Hate, hate, HATE these. This is when the heroine is approximately 18-22 years old, inexperienced and beautiful and catches the eye of a wealthy businessman/doctor/rock star. Also known as THE MILLS AND BOON Rom Com, principally ‘cos of its lack of humour and obsession with clothes and how the heroine looks.

6. The “I’m Trying To Re-Write When Harry Met Sally*

Nuff said. Also Sleepless In Seattle, Four Weddings, Notting Hill, etc.

7. The “I’m Trying To Break The Mould”

Yes, anything can go into a Rom Com, but you gotta do it in a plausible, less try-hard way. Rom Coms in the future with little frog aliens that live up somebody’s nose don’t usually float readers’ boats. We like that sense of inevitability with humans to relate to.

And finally, my ultimate fave (not):

8. The One Where Nothing Much Happens

Does boy meet girl? Yes, sort of – usually in an office or lift. What do they do?He phones her, asks her out – she says no. Then what? They go to work and she goes out with somebody else. Why? No idea. Hilarious consequences ensue (not really), then girl changes her mind and goes out with boy. Phew. What a ride. MORE: 8 Mistakes that Will Kill Your Romantic Comedy Screenplay DEAD

Good Luck!

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6 thoughts on “Welcome To Rom Com Hell: 8 Awful Ways To Write Romantic Comedy”

  1. I’m writing a rom com called CelebRealiTV, which is basically this:

    A celebrity and her friends drive cross country to attempt to score dates with their celebrity crushes, but things become complicated when their daily vlog show becomes viral, as she becomes involved with her crush, and is the crush of one of her traveling companions.

    But, I’m wondering, when you say mistaken identity, if this would be included? Let me explain why:

    In my screenplay, as it states in the logline, they’re basically on this road trip to LA, where they’re all (4 people, one is a celebrity) going to try to score dates with their celeb crushes. They begin recording daily vlogs, which they entitle CelebRealiTV, to kind of make a show out of their journey, and due to the celebrity being involved, her fans find it on the net, and it goes viral. Worldwide, people want to know how this turns out. Everyone is watching, including the celebrity’s celeb crush, Fred Savage. So, they’re in Tennessee visiting her parents, and come across a huge crowd of people, there to see her, and Fred is there. He flew out to meet her, because he finds out she’s coming to ask him out, etc. Anyway, so they start seeing each other, leaving the other three stuck in Tennessee, even though she’s the one who has to be back in LA for a new project, etc, and this is where we find out that one of her traveling companions is planning on asking HER out because not only is she his celeb crush, but along the way, he’s figured out that she’s his childhood best friend. In the first scene, it’s revealed that he moved away from where he grew up, at a young age, and he slowly puts the pieces together as they go. She doesn’t yet recognize him, etc. So, technically, this COULD be mistaken identity, but is it the bad kind?

    1. Mistaken Identity is never a problem *as standard* don’t worry. It’s when it’s done poorly. Like anything in this writing malarkey!

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