Why it’s hard to write romantic comedy

An 1870 oil painting by Ford Madox Brown

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If you can write a good romantic comedy you’ll find lots of people interested. The problem is that it’s getting harder. The reason is that this genre is all about keeping people apart. For instance, here are some traditional methods for making sure the lovers don’t get together until late in the story:

  1. Geography – they’re in different parts of the country or the world
  2. Age – they’re different ages
  3. Miscommunication – they misunderstand what the other has said
  4. Differing values – they’re on opposite ends of the political scale, or one’s an environmentalist and the other works for Exxon
  5. Feuding families – Romeo and Juliet all over again
  6. Coming from different sides of the tracks

However, these days geography isn’t the barrier it used to be, you can fly just about anywhere for a reasonable amount and there are lots of long-distance relationships. Differences in ages are readily accepted. Miscommunication still happens, but there are so many ways the communicate that it’s not that hard to correct it.

There are also lots of people who agree to disagree about values (whether or not to have a child remains one of the divisive issues). People are not as dependent on families or even as connected to them as they used to be so families not getting along doesn’t have to be that big an issue. And the issue of one being richer than the other, which used to be an issue mainly if it was the woman who had more money, also is much less significant now.

With the reduced impact of these issues, if the couple doesn’t overcome them fairly easily it’s harder for us to imagine they are meant for each other, in which case we don’t care very much whether or not they end up together.

The other big problem with the genre is that we’ve seen so many variations of the basic problems that it’s harder to come up with something fresh.

What’s the solution? I think it’s to look more deeply at the things that DO drive people apart these days. What are the things you and your friends are talking about? For instance, how far to go in making your life public via social networking and the consequences if you take it too far. Or maybe the burden of taking care of one’s parents or grandparents when they get older. Or the impact of the economy and unemployment.

One example is “the Gaggle”—the idea that these days young women sometimes have one man in their life for intellectual stimulation, another one for sexual satisfaction, another one to pal around with, etc. That’s a concept developed by the proprietors of the dating blog “WTF Is Up With My Love Life,” and it’s scheduled to be a book and a movie.

There are still rich topics to mine if you look for them!

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Jurgen Wolff offers a new screenwriting tip here every Tuesday; also check out his site www.ScreenwritingSuccess.com