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Writing the Romantic Comedy Paperback – July 31, 2001
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About the Author
Billy Mernit teaches "Writing the Romantic Comedy" and four other courses at the UCLA Extension Writers' Program. During his many years in the entertainment industry, he has worked as a script consultant and served as a story analyst for Universal Studios, Sony, and Paramount; written for NBC's Santa Barbara; and composed songs recorded by Carly Simon and Judy Collins. With his wife, Claudia Nizza, he is the coauthor of That's How Much I Love You.
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1. Story fundamentals - a) Characters: plot comes from people, b) Plot and structure: how a character deals with a given situation, makes us ask what comes next, three acts - beginning, middle, end, c) Theme:an idea to be explored, d) Imagery: visual metaphors, pictures, e) Point of view, f) World: setting - time, place, period, weather, atmosphere, and g) Style: writer's voice.
2. Rom-com - meet, separate, reunite,, conflict, crisis, resolution. Character-driven, emphasize internal conflicts, hero usually emotionally incomplete - power of love, hero either grows or not.
3. Sub-genres -ensemble, marital, triangle, cross-genre hybrid. Includes history of rom-coms.
4. Key to good rom-com characters - purpose, empathy, complexity, credibility, surprise, contradictions, quirks. Guy not in it for sex, girl not in it for money. The other man/woman, the buddy. Couple must have chemistry, interlocking needs, misfits who fit only each other.
5. Theme has to be personal, the writer's point of view, comments on the human condition, speculates on a possible truth. Axiom - statement accepted as true, argument, good to explore, pose as a question. Theme has subplots. Test every character, image, storyline, against axiom/theme. Jokes rooted in truth are best.
6. 7 rom-com beats-setup/beg act 1, cute meet/mid act 1, turning point/end act 1, the hook/mid act 2, swivel second turning point/end act 2, crisis/mid act 3, resolution/end act 3.
7. Tell simple stories with complicated emotions. Keep it credible. A plausible world. Have sensibility and consistency, set rules in story and follow them. Setup/payoff -if a gun at start, must go off later.
8. Be able to pitch movie in one sentence. Be able to say what genre or sub-genre. Be able to describe story in 3 sentences - one per act.
9. The art of funny - reversal (like girl is the aggressor),be serious (others do funny things to them), make them hurt then happy, define your tone -farce, satire, parody, black comedy, dramedy. threes, leave no good gag untopped.
10. Sex - implicit best, foreplay, people don't shed character and personality in bed, plot doesn't stop. Aftermath - intimacy, heighten conflict, revelation raises stakes, rom-com can't be just about sex.
11. Dialog - answer what happens next, moves plot forward, reveals the past,, reveals characters, defines tone/world, reveals theme subtly, creates tension/suspense, avoid conflict. Should do more than one thing at a time. Less is more, come in late as possible, leave as soon as possible, inference, intimation, innuendo, what isn't said sometimes better than what is said, characters must have emotional clarity.
12. Imagery - think in pictures.
13. First drafts - have the courage to be bad, test ideas, are for finding what you are writing about and what your problems are.
14. Craft enhancers - specificity/the right word, invention,compression, intensity, integrity.
15. Writing is re-writing. Keep file of deleted stuff.
16. Feedback - three people,give specific focus like what do you think of John and Mary, don't defend just listen
17. Reader-friendly form -first 10 pages establish genre, tone, protagonist, some main plot. Turnoffs - useless info, chatter, hype, clutter.
A very helpful book.
But it's useful stuff. Before you pick up a comedy writing instructional manual, you think you sort of know what's funny, and of course, you're right. But Mernit explains why we laugh, and knowing this can improve your writing. In 13 chapters in four sections he discusses storytelling fundamentals, character development, the art of being funny, dialogue, credibility, conflict, and more. He takes being funny very seriously, and so should you if you intend to write comedy--books or movies--for a living. I learned a few valuable tips about character development that I plan to incorporate into my next novel. Thank you, Mr. Mernit.
The author is/was an instructor affiliated with UCLA Extension Writers' Program, so understandably the book reads a bit like a textbook: it is instructional, comprehensive, and contains writing exercises. The book is aimed at screenwriters, not book writers, so he frequently uses romantic comedy movies, contemporary and vintage, to illustrate a teaching point. It's embarrassing, but there is a wide and dismal 30-year hole in my inventory of popular films, so his illustrations were often wasted on me. But I am the exception, so that shouldn't be a problem with most readers. The good news is that everything he teaches applies equally to authors of romantic comedy books and screenwriters. There's something here for both camps.
The 286-page book contains relevant lists (noteworthy and top-grossing films, etc.), a bibliography, and an index.
The book directly tackles the romcom and offers useful insight. It breaks down classic romcoms so you can see the methods in action. The best thing is that it takes a structure you are familure with (the standard three act structure) and shows how to map your romcom on it. But, it doesn't present the structure as a hard and fast rule. That makes it easy to manipulate the structure to your own story.
I would have liked to have seen more on creating/building chemistry between characters. The book does offer practicle, useful advice on character chemistry, though. I just think that it's such a huge part of a romcom that maybe the book could have devoted a little more time to it.
What I appreciate most is that it has good excercises that can help you get your story moving.