We asked screenwriter, Lauren Miller, for her tips on writing a relatable romantic comedy. Take it away, Lauren!
Who doesn’t love to love a romantic comedy? No one, that’s who! But how often do you go to the theatre just dying to love the new girl-chases-guy, girl-loses-guy, guy-wins-back-girl movie and you leave the theatre just a little… well…not in love?
Unfortunately, I find that it happens a little more often than it doesn’t happen, and I thought of a few things that might make your romantic comedy the most lovable and relatable thing you’ve ever seen.
- Keep your romantic climaxes real. Okay, we all love Richard Gere climbing the fire escape, and we all love Tom Hanks finding Meg Ryan on top of the Empire State building, but these are just hugely fictional and completely unrealistic dreams. Yes, they are fun to imagine that it’s you on the receiving end, but these huge gestures fail way more often than they succeed on screen. Keeping it true to your characters will give you a chance to connect to your audience in a way that is much more likely to ring true to the romantic in themselves.
- Give your women some depth! For the most part, there are two types of women in romantic comedies:
- The super-hot, ditzy klutz who has had so many boyfriends, but none who really understand her.
- The super-hot, uptight, and über-successful businesswoman who has forgotten how to love until the artist/loser shows her how to live again.
- Keep the world your characters live in real. How many times do you watch a rom-com and the main character is a lowly assistant at a non-profit, yet they have the most fantastic wardrobe and the best NY apartment you’ve ever seen. Nothing disconnects me more from a movie than when that happens. If someone is struggling at their job, I want to see them struggling everywhere! Don’t be afraid to write that your character is just normal at some things–not every character has to be the best-dressed, the smartest, the cleanest, the messiest. What are you wearing right now? That’s what your character should be wearing! Where do you hang out with your friends? That’s where your character should be hanging out! What colors are your walls? You guessed it…you’re character’s walls should be that color too! If the world your character is living in isn’t real to you, then it won’t be real to the audience either.
- Don’t force your characters together. Again, keeping it real especially helps here. Say that you like spicy food and basketball. Will you fall in love with every other person who also likes spicy food and basketball? You really have to give your lovers a chance to genuinely fall for each other.
- Please! Not New York! People fall in love other places you know. Okay, it’s not that a romantic comedy can’t take place there (it’s so awesome!). But how many times can people fall in love there? Come on! Spread the wealth to other cities! And small towns! Use average places where your average people live. Give them a chance to be romantic too! And remember, if it has to be NY, more than likely, their apartment will be the size of a shoebox and won’t have a flower-pot-lined stoop.
For example, think about your own life. What’s the most romantic thing someone has done for you? Maybe you could steal that! Or think about the things that you like to do, and imagine that you are out doing them one day and the object of your affection shows up unexpectedly.
I guess what it comes down to is the need to keep your romantic swells organic to your character’s everyday lives. If a character is poor and has any sort of responsibilities, they probably can’t stop everything and follow some guy they heard on the radio to the top of the Empire State Building.
Take the movie, Knocked Up: Ben Stone is a huge loser. He can’t sweep Allison off her feet, build her a huge house for their baby, or give her a huge diamond ring. So what did he do? He got her a box and promised to get her a ring one day. And he got a small, but nice, apartment for her and decorated a wall to look like a baby's room. I don’t know about you, but I was pretty swept away by that. It was totally real, and in the realm of Ben Stone’s reality.
If you’re a women, ask yourself this question: “Are you either of these people?” And if you’re a man, ask yourself this question: “Do you really know one of these women?” Hopefully the answer to those questions is “nope.” Because usually, women are a mix of so many different things! Don’t be afraid to let your female character be a little of everything. And let her emotions be real! Give her an annoying fault and give her something to be admired for. And give her some hobbies that are real (and not just football because that makes her likeable to the male lead). She should be someone you would be friends with, and you should know her better than anyone. I bet Nora Ephron always knew what Sally Albright was doing with her day.
The best example I can think of is When Harry Met Sally. Wow. They talked to each other. They fought with each other. They were vulnerable with each other, and got to know each other better than anyone else ever had before. It wasn’t because he found her pretty, and it wasn’t because she found him funny. They genuinely knew each other, and at the end, when they realized they couldn’t live without each other, did we believe it? Is it maybe one of the best romantic comedies OF ALL TIME? You betcha.
Lauren A. Miller lives in Los Angeles where she is currently working on a script for Fox Atomic.