Recently, I blogged about the romantic comedy genre and shared my two cents on the state of romcoms today in all forms, not just books. Today, I continue the topic with a few things I’ve found useful when writing romantic comedy. While I’m certainly no expert on the subject (although I’ve sure given it a red-hot go!) I can offer what works for me in the hope it may also help you if writing funny, romantic fiction is what floats your writerly boat, or sparks joy for you KonMari style.
Design characters who say funny things
I truly believe if the character is strong enough, the comedy will flow naturally. Funny characters will often lead you towards comedy rather than the other way around. Crafting a character who is three-dimensional with layers is really important. Get to know their likes, dislikes, family history, passions, ambitions and you’ll get one step closer to creating characters who feel real on the page. That said, while planning can be an important part of creating a character or building a scene, leaving a little room to surprise yourself is how you’ll maintain your own interest. After all, if you’re not interested why would a reader be?
Find your own voice
Part of the process of finding your own voice is drawing inspiration from your own life experiences. Yep, that old saying “write what you know” is actually bang-on the money. Ever had a first kiss that wasn’t charged with excitement, tension, awkwardness or expectation? Of course not, it was a first kiss! Every romantic moment or love story you’ve experienced was unique to you. Therefore, a great way to avoid tired clichés is to use these experiences from your own life in the fictional world you’re creating.
Don’t force it
If you sit down and make the conscious decision to be funny, nine times out of ten you won’t be. Fact! Likewise, if the comedy isn’t flowing in the first draft try not to force it. Simply aim to reach the end of the draft (because finishing is important) then during the editing phase you can go back and make scenes sharper, funnier or more emotive. The most genuine romcoms didn’t set out to re-imagine the whole genre, they simply added their own flavour to it. Embracing tropes is fine as long as you separate them from cliches and can find unique or interesting ways to use them in your story. Remember – if you can’t make yourself laugh first then nobody else will either.
Keep notes, keep notes, KEEP NOTES!
Like most writers I’m a magpie when it comes to collecting other people’s anecdotes or conversations. Whether I’ve been told it directly, read it somewhere, or overheard it in a café or on a tram, I’m always scribbling down pieces of dialogue or funny scenes by observing what’s going on around me. Keep your eyes and ears wide open then – and this is the important bit – write it down! I can tell you from personal experience how often not writing it down has come back to bite me on the bum. The lesson: Now I’ve always got my phone open in the notes section ready to tap away. If, like me, you have a memory like a goldfish, having the ability to quickly whip out your iPhone and write it all down, is a godsend. Especially at 2am in the morning!
Chemistry is key
There is no love story if there is no chemistry between your characters. Simple. As. That. Gradually building tension or attraction is a good way to create a credible sense of chemistry. Conflict is essential. Why? Because the result of conflict can often be chemistry. There is nothing more boring than two people who appear destined to end up together. Yawn! A good way to introduce conflict is to throw in misunderstanding – whether that’s between two characters who don’t understand each other or simply don’t like each other – and change their views over the course of the book. You’ve got to feel that these two people would live a better life together than apart, so you’re building something between them that’s special and unique.
Banter is everything
This leads me to my next point: Banter. Misunderstanding and conflict offers the perfect recipe for banter between characters. A heroine who can witty-banter with her love interest can make for a very entertaining read. Think of all the best romcom couples: Hepburn and Tracey, Timberlake and Kunis, Wiig and O’Dowd. What did they all have in common? Say it with me: B-A-N-T-E-R.
Find the balance between light and shade
One of the areas I struggle with the most is finding a good balance between being too light-hearted and being too deeply emotional. Truth bomb! Real life isn’t one or the other, it can be both and sometimes both at once. Ever laugh-cried or cry-laughed? You see my point. Striking the right balance will not only keep your reader interested, it’ll also make your story much more true to real life.
Read widely into the rom-com genre
Look closely at how other authors weave romance and comedy into the plotlines of their stories. Some of my most favourite authors, such as Marian Keyes, Mhairi McFarlane, Graeme Simsion and Lindsey Kelk, make romcom writing seem effortless. And yet I have no doubt they spent lots of time editing and polishing their work to make it feel that way. Observe how your favourite authors have drawn their characters, how and where they’ve used conflict and built chemistry or tension and where they’ve allowed passion and desire to simmer or explode to the surface. A great trick is to try and work out where they’ve used a unique twist in a moment, which could have easily resorted to obvious clichés, and how they deployed this technique in their story.
Watch widely into the rom-com genre
Whether it s classics like When Harry Met Sally or Annie Hall or modern films such as Bridesmaids or my absolute all-time favourite, Bridget Jones’s Diary, watching how a romantic comedy is brought to life on screen is another great way to sink your teeth into the genre. I mentioned previously that right now, TV is where a lot of romcom is shining brightly. I know I’m repeating myself here but, in case you missed it, a few recent shows I suggest taking a peek at include: You’re the Worst, Master of None, Judd Apatow’s Love and my favourite, Catastrophe.
Dispense with tired clichés or lame paradigms
I also spoke about this in my previous post, but I’ll mention it again as it’s a biggie. One of the reasons why Mhairi McFarlane is one of my favourite authors is because her novels are so realistic and avoid a lot of the cheesy clichés you often encounter in romcoms. Her heroines are flawed but they’re also relatable. McFarlane’s ability to stay sharp and up-to-date, without resorting to the Tampax type humour which is often rife in romantic comedy, is what makes her books hit the bestseller charts every single time.
Give them a whole world to live in
Some of the best romcoms I’ve read in recent times didn’t rely solely on the romance to carry the story. Strong friendships, family issues and career ups and downs is one way to build more life into your story. One particular novel, Not Working by Lisa Owens, which made me roar with laughter, is what some might call a romcom but instead of the girl looking for love, she’s looking for a job. Within this world, Owens’ has created a character who is experiencing all sorts of emotions stemming from her relationship, career woes, family disputes and friendship dramas. Then there’s also her character’s inner world, which is unravelling at the seams. Developing a world beyond the story’s central romance is crucial in keeping the narrative relatable and interesting.