Tuesday, September 3, 2013

What's so funny? - asks Margaret James


I recently made my first foray into romantic comedy with The Wedding Diary and at the moment I am well into my current work-in-progress which is also a romantic comedy, even though it’s much darker this time. 

So I have been thinking (perhaps rather belatedly) about what makes a romantic comedy work and what makes a comedy romantic.

I’ve come up with the following and would love to know what other people think.

  • The set-up/conflict/motivating incident in a rom com can be the opposite of funny.  The hero and heroine usually start off in a bad place.  One or both of them might have been jilted, hurt, sacked, abandoned, have lost something very precious or even have a serious and/or possibly terminal illness.  The reader will want to watch these people walking back to happiness.
  • The secondary characters – for example, best friends, bosses, siblings, parents, wise old grannies – often offer the reader the most laughs.  Manic, man-chasing sisters (like Lydia in Pride and Prejudice), crazy mothers (like Bridget Jones’s in Bridget Jones’s Diary) are so over-the-top they’re hilarious.
  • Who should I marry is usually the big question – the bad (but gorgeous) boy, the good (but dull) boy, the bad (but sexy) girl, the good (but ordinary) girl? The reader will want to see the characters end up with the right people, so can falling in love allow the good boy to become gorgeous and the good girl to become sexy?  Let’s hope so!
  • The hero and heroine need to discover the truth about themselves and about other people. 
  • At the start of the story, the hero and heroine don’t need to have a clue about what they really, really want.  But the reader must know and be hoping they’ll get it.
  • There will need to be a point at which everything goes horribly wrong and it looks as if the hero and heroine have no chance of achieving their happy-ever-after because there are just too many obstacles in their way.
  • The hero and heroine must give each other gifts.  Luxury mansions and diamond rings are lovely, but gifts can also include self-respect, self-confidence, faith in the future, and of course the best gift of all – love. 
Links for Margaret:-

What do you think makes a romantic comedy funny and what makes it romantic?

20 comments:

Berni Stevens said...

Great post, Margaret!

I always think that the Rom Com must be one of the hardest things to write. I loved The Wedding Diary, so I'm very much looking forward to your next book!

Berni x

Beverley Eikli aka Beverley Oakley said...

I'm looking forward to The Wedding Diary, Margaret.

Do you think you need to be in the right frame of mind, or 'place' to write a RomCom? Or does a writer have to adopt a more businesslike frame of mind.

Beverley x

Henriette said...

Great post, Margaret. Although I hate the idea that there is a "formula" for writing romantic fiction - any sub-genre of romantic fiction - there's no doubt in my mind that certain parameters exist, and the ones you've listed here make perfect sense to me. Very thought-provoking.
Hx

Anne Stenhouse said...

Hi Margaret, I recognised all the bullet points you listed and can compare them with my debut novel. Really useful to have them set out as I'm totally hopeless at defining what I do. That's why I liked writing plays - the director is always clear about what you did and what you mean. Anne Stenhouse

Sue Moorcroft said...

Brilliant posting on the elements of a rom com!

Margaret James said...

Thank you, Berni, Beverley, Henriette, Anne and Sue. I wrote most of the first draft of TWD on trains back in 2011 when my mother was very ill and I was backwarding and forwarding to hospital to see Mum. I found that writing something light and funny helped me to deal with the mess that was my real life. I think it's useful to have certain guidelines for writers, but I agree that all the so-called rules are made to be broken.

angela britnell said...

You've summed it up so well and I particularly liked your last remark about gifts - that to me is the essence of any true romance both fictional and real life. Very much looking forward to the new book as I loved the Wedding Diary

Margaret James said...

Thank you, Angela - and yes, giving is the most important thing, in fiction and in life. We can always identify the baddies in fiction because although they have many interesting and even fascinating attributes, they're just - well - selfish. Boo to them!

Jane Lovering said...

I love rom-coms, because they can help us to deal with stuff that, at first glance, is too dark to laugh at. But the dark makes the light look better too, so it's a good way of dealing with subjects that are a bit 'heavy' for mainstream romance. Oh, and they're great for picking up one-liners from... I LOVED The Wedding Diary, it had all the elements of great rom-com in it! Looking forward to the next...

Margaret James said...

Thank you, Jane! As you say, the fact that a story is a romantic comedy doesn't mean it can't deal with the darker side of life.

Isabella Connor said...

I've never tried to write rom-com. I can come up with the odd witty remark, but could I write a whole novel sprinkled with wit? I don't think so, and I admire immensely those who can.

The best rom-coms for me are those which are funny, but believable. Every time something funny happens to me, I make a note of it for future use - at least then I know it's something that can really happen.

As for the romance, I just look for two people who care for each other more than they care for themselves.

Fantastic blog, Margaret.

Liv x

Mary de Laszlo said...

Often tempted to write about 'noble love', A passionate love affair that cannot end well due to some insurmountable problem - e'g. people thrown together in war while married to other people, or wrong caste/religion/age etc or know in their hearts that it wouldn't last in normal life. A Brief Encounter, Casablanca sort of thing!
Very hard to do and probably difficult to sell.
Mx

Margaret James said...

People who care for others more than themselves - a great definition of a hero and heroine, Isabella. I think that's what you're talking about too, Mary? Except that it all ends badly for the noble lovers, while the rom com hero and heroine can have a happy-ever-after!

Christina said...

All I can say is - respect! I could never write a rom com, it's one of the most difficult sub-genres IMO.

Sue Fortin said...

I'd love to be able to write a romcom but I'm not sure I'd be able to keep up the humour for a whole book. Great advice though, thanks Margaret.

Margaret James said...

Thank you, Christina and Sue. I had one character who got all the best jokes - she is my Evil Twin!

Jules Wake said...

What a great round up of Romantic Comedy ... I might make this my check list. I loved the idea of letting your evil twin do the writing.

Margaret James said...

Whenever I do anything mad or bad, it's always the fault of my Evil Twin, and she turns up in my fiction regularly!

Elizabeth Harris said...

Fabulous interview, Margaret. You've given me some pointers.

Margaret James said...

Thank you, Liz!