If you’re a regular listener of Your Creative Life podcast then you’ll know that in this week’s episode, Vanessa and I discuss the genre of romantic comedy, which is the genre I currently write in. When I sat down to write about it for my blog, I realised I had A LOT to say about subject. Which is why I’ve decided to split it over two blog posts.
In part one, I expand on my discussion with Vanessa by trying to answer some common questions about writing romcoms, including my take on the ongoing chick lit debate (yes, it’s still going *groan*). In part two, I’ll share a few tips I’ve found to be useful when it comes to writing genuinely funny romcoms by sidesteping tired cliches and one-dimensional characters.
Every now again we hear that romcoms are dead or on the decline, what are your thoughts on this?
As long as there is love and laughter in the world, romantic comedy will always exist. Fact. Sure there are times when the genre ebbs and flows, but you only have to look at popular culture to see that the appetite for romcoms is still very strong. While it continues to sell its socks off in books (cue The Rosie Project and Me Before You) right now TV is where a lot of romcom is at its best. Shows such as You’re the Worst, Master of None, and my absolute favourite, Catastrophe, explore love and marriage in a fresh and contemporary way. Closer to home, shows like Offspring and the forthcoming The Wrong Girl, based on the novel by Zoe Foster-Blake, are still very much grounded in real-life romantic comedy. Just as it’s important to read widely, it’s also important to watch widely into the genre to see how romcoms are brought to life on the screen. Plus, it’s an excuse to watch all the Judd Apatow or Nora Ephron you want. Bonus!
What’s your view on the term ‘chick lit’?
Chick lit is a marketing term, just like mummy lit or the more recently coined grip lit, that was most likely designed by a marketing department at a publishing house in the 1990s to package a sub-genre of fiction that is perceived to appeal to young women. Typically the storyline will involve some type of romantic element or dilemma. The issue many authors, including Marian Keyes, have expressed about the term chick lit is that it can be seen as derogatory and demeaning to women. Especially in today’s feminist landscape, the term seems to have little relevance like it did in the ‘90s, say during the heyday of Bridget Jones’s Diary.
Personally speaking, the term doesn’t offend me on a massive scale. I don’t love it, but if someone referred to what I write as chick lit I’m not going to get all up in arms about it as I believe there are worse ways in which women are being belitted and treated unfairly, especially in the workplace. Having said that, I do feel that the term is rarely used in a positive way. Then there’s the argument that even with the term ‘women’s fiction’ there’s no male equivalent. You don’t hear anyone refer to anything as ‘men’s fiction,’ even though authors like David Nicholls, Graeme Simsion and Nick Hornby write similar books about love and life. On that basis, I have to question the term’s existence and relevance to today. My suspicion is that it is gradually fading out. This is why many authors now refer to the genre as romantic comedy, which makes a lot more sense when you think about it.
How can writers avoid tired cliches when it comes to writing romantic comedy?
The main thing is to read widely into the genre and work out what appeals to you as a reader. What are you drawn to? What makes you cry-laugh or swoon? For me, I want laughs (obviously), sympathetic lead characters, a healthy dose of emotion, adversity, and obstacles. What I don’t want quite so much are characters who are solely defined by their jobs, romantic partners or what they buy, e.g. designer handbags. What I love most about Mhairi McFarlane, who is one of my favourite romcom authors, is that her books aren’t set in overly glitzy locations with leads who work in glamorous jobs with billionaire boyfriends. Instead, she chooses to swerve fluffy storylines by adding more “creative swearing, wit and feminism.” Hear, hear to that!
Stay tuned for part two of this blog series, where I dive a little deeper into what helps me to write the LOLs and the awws in my own fiction. For more, listen to episode #028 of Your Creative Life podcast.