At writers’ conferences I sometimes get asked to explain the formula for writing romantic comedy. Here is a basic plot outline of what you often find in a Romantic Comedy book or movie.
1) Introduction – Introduce the hero before the romantic rival. Readers and audiences instinctively identify with the first character who appears on the screen. This is often your lead character.
2) Establish your lead character’s motivation. What does he / she want outside of a relationship. Fly to the moon, be a White House reporter, get free cable? In a properly structured film (or novel), the hero’s outer motivation, which defines the story concept, is established no later than 25% of the way through the story.
3) Inciting Encounter – What disturbing event disrupts your lead’s normal life?
4) Call to Action – Challenge your lead to accept this new adventure
4) Denial of Call to Action – Show how your main character(s) resist the challenge.
5) Repeat of Call to Action based on emotions – Appeal to your lead on an emotional level. “Little Jimmy will die if you do not …”
6) Acceptance of Call to Action – Show your lead reluctantly accepting the challenge.
7) Begin the quest – Your main characters set off on their great adventure.
1st date: Chance encounter – Show the first meeting between the hero and the romance. Both in real life and in fiction, the most enthralling part of any relationship comes with that first, head-over-heels, all-consuming attraction.
2nd date: Background revealed, values presented, ground rules established
3rd date: First Physical Encounter, A Touch of Flesh
4th date: Falling for each other while in pursuit of external goals (Remember that outward motivation introduced at the start? This drives the story and your two love birds apart.)
5th date: Conflict spills into work – Love and conflicting goals threaten their work.
6th date: Hostile Encounter – First fight, differences aired.
8) Friend’s Support Scene – Friends come to rescue, talk your lead off the ledge.
7th date: Domestic Encounters – Couple plays house. Makes a craft, cooks, baby sits.
8th date: Work Interrupted – Now work is not simply interrupted, but threatened. She shows up at his office. In the middle of a big presentation, he calls her boss to say he’s taking her to lunch.
9) Friend’s Strategy Scene – Friends step in to offer new strategy for salvaging the relationship that is now, obviously, unraveling.
10) Point of No Return – The hero / heroine should commit to the relationship by the mid-point of the book. The halfway mark of any journey is the POINT OF NO RETURN – that moment where the traveler is closer to the destination than the point of origin. Show the hero making a physical, emotional, tangible commitment that indicates that there’s no turning back. From here on she can never return to the emotional life she was living when the story began.
9th date: Friend relationships Interrupted – Friends must go. “Pick, it’s me or them.”
11) First Termination Scene – Having committed to each other (rather than friends), blow up the relationship over misunderstandings, stress, cultural differences, etc…
10th date: Meet the Family – Playing House – Restore the relationship by playing house and meeting the family
11th date: Prom Night – Cinderella Ball Scene – All is going well, marriage might be an option, until…
Secrets Exposed Scene – Clock strikes 12 and real identities / motives are revealed
Final Termination – “You go your way, I’ll go mine.” “Fine.” “Fine!”
One Last Chance Scene – Hero or Heroine comes to their senses and realizes they cannot live without each other
Sacrifice Offered Scene – Hero or Heroine offers to forgo their external goals for the love of the other
12th date: Final Encounter – Win or Lose Love
13th date: Tie Up Loose Ends – Sail Into Sunset