5 Step Recipe For Writing A Rom-Com

5 Step Recipe For Writing A Rom Com 1000x400

By Devon Forward & Joel Mendoza

Writing a script isn’t easy, but of all the genres to write, a romantic comedy is perhaps one of the most fun and painless processes to work through. In my experience, once you have a handful of key ingredients in place, the script practically writes itself. It’s true! Take two great leading roles with an abundance of romantic chemistry, a ‘third-wheel’ character that spices up the humor, and a unique set-up that challenges convention, and you are more than halfway there.

Most follow a well-established, tried and tested formula, with a multitude of variations thereof, and most if not all rom-coms see one if not both of their protagonists come to a realization and undergo a fundamental change in order to move forward. And lastly, in order for your rom-com to be truly satisfying and resonate with your audience, the story must end on a positive note one way or another, whether the couple end up together or not. It can be bitter-sweet, it can even be a little depressing, but ultimately there must be some kind of light, some kind of positive change, that will ultimately lead to happiness.

Here are a few tips for writing your next romantic comedy that practically writes itself.

Chemistry Is Key

Arguably, the most important part of portraying a believable romance is the natural chemistry between the two lead characters. It is vital to your success, that these two lead roles attract top tier talent and therefore the romantic spark must be authentic and presented in a way that your audience unquestioningly buys into the love story, hook, line, and sinker. There must be no doubt for the audience that these two characters are meant to be together. And from a producer’s perspective, don’t just let them decide the chemistry in casting. Write it into the script and make it an inherent part of your narrative.

The easiest and most effective way to convey chemistry is through the dialogue between your two leads. The dialogue must flow naturally, feel organic and have a sense of humor to it. Write these roles and ensure their dialogue is sharp and biting, elusive and tender, yet charming and funny in all the right places.   Write and rewrite the dialogue as if the success of your film depends on it. It does!

Establish A Romantic-Spark Early and Block It

Though your script should be equal parts romance and comedy, the romance is truly the beating heart of your story and should be the primary focus. As such, it is critical that your first fifteen pages are laid out clearly and swiftly guide your audience to what they need to know whilst firmly establishing the starting dynamic between the two leads and what stands in their way. Whilst you’re writing, also remember that your main character needs to have a good reason they are looking for love, whether they understand it or not, and that needs to drive their story forward.

The second part of the equation is to block it. Establish the obstacle that stands in their way. Don’t try to make it overly complicated. Common everyday stuff that gets in the way is what the audience will relate to most. They are obviously perfect for each other, but one is in a relationship. One has just gotten out of a relationship. They live too far away. Their families don’t approve. It was a fleeting moment and they don’t know how to find each other. They can’t stand each other! These have all been done with varying levels of success, but you get the point. Establish the chemistry and then put obstacles in the way. It is the easiest and most effective way to get the audience emotionally invested in these people and their journey.

The hit Netflix romantic comedy To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before is a great example of this. In the first three minutes or less, the film solidly establishes Lara Jean’s teenage focus on romance through her fairytale daydream, as well as her taboo crush on her sister’s boyfriend. Along with that, the movie successfully weaves in comedy throughout. Sofia Alvarez, the screenwriter, essentially did all of this in just the first three minutes.

Inject the Humor

What is a romantic-comedy without the comedy? If the romance of the rom-com is the beating heart, then the comedy is the blood coursing through each scene. The comedy is equally important to the success of your film. The chemistry between your leads is fun to watch, but it also needs to be funny. Relationships are full of funny moments, and these should all be explored, but the comedy will be pushed, and their romance challenged by introducing a ‘Third-Wheel’ character. This can be the form of a literal third wheel as is Owen Wilson in You, Me, and Dupree or by way of a confidant, or BFF who is seemingly as invested in this relationship as the couple. Essentially their function is to sow doubt and drive the conflict and the comedy.  In romcom terms, a lot of the humor will be instigated and ultimately stem from the ‘third-wheel’. This is also a great opportunity for a cameo, so write this role with a great actor in mind. It will make your life so much easier.

Stick to The Formula, But Challenge Conventions

Rom-coms are a tried and tested formula and it’s worth sticking to the formula as we know it works. Afterall, this is an article about writing a script that practically writes itself. Go on and write that script that challenges everything we know about the funny side of romance and you may very well have a hit on your hands, but you’ll also have a huge uphill battle.

So, with that said, it is important to stick to the formula, but it is also of vital importance to not be afraid to play with expectations and challenge the conventions of the genre. This could simply be by bringing new representation to the game, like Love, Simon, which was the first teen film from a big studio to feature a gay protagonist. The romcom genre is severely lacking in diversity, so any conscious effort to remedy this is a step in the right direction. By this I mean, don’t just make a character the token gay, or Asian woman. Make their minority an intrinsic part of the story and let it play a part in how the narrative unfolds.

Another way to bring originality to your story is to experiment with the stereotypes and tropes of the genre. You must find fresh perspectives and original takes on relationships that have yet to be explored. You can even mesh genres to try and find an original take. Of course, the success of Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead was in effectively pulling off the first Rom-Zom-Com hybrid. 

Always Have A Happy Ending

By happy ending, this doesn’t have to be the protagonist ending up in a relationship. Check out the recent Netflix film The Half of It, about a shy teenager who helps a classmate woo a girl that she secretly loves. The film ends (SPOILER ALERT) with Ellie, the protagonist, and Aster, the girl she likes, going off to college. Ellie and Aster kiss, but Aster admits she has no clue of what or who she likes. They separate with a mutual understanding that they are both open to see what happens in the future. None of the three main characters end up in a relationship, and they are better for it. A truly modern story, The Half of It also understands that most people don’t find their true love in high school, and there’s a lot of growing up to come in college and beyond, but the ending is very hopeful.

Overall, the one thing that should always be a part of your romcom happy ending is that the protagonist must undergo a change. The main character almost always comes to some big realization about themselves that not only changes the course of their relationship, but the course of this person’s future, one way or another. Maybe they realize that they love someone more than they thought, or that the person they thought they loved, doesn’t love them, or maybe they love someone else altogether. There are many ways you can go with this and it all ultimately ties into the themes you want to explore and your purpose for writing the script in the first place. But no matter what, creating an ending that leaves the audience feeling satisfied and hopeful is intrinsic to a marketable and successful romantic comedy.