A genre once-declared dead, the romantic comedy is back and bigger than ever, paving the way for new stories surrounding the hilarious, harrowing, and hopeful enigma that is the modern relationship.
So what makes a great rom-com? And how do you navigate the rules of the genre while creating fresh and original content for today’s audience? We turned to our Conference alums for the answers on crafting engaging characters and redefining relationship stories for the big screen.
Here are six tips for writing romantic comedies from past AFF panelists who have mastered the language of love:
GIVE YOUR CHARACTERS HEART
With romantic comedies in particular, you always have to be asking yourself why the people do what they’re doing, because they’re doing it for reasons of the heart, probably more so than in any other genre, and it has to feel real and relatable. Even if you don’t want to be with that person, you have to understand why they want to be with them.
-Tess Morris (writer Man Up, Casual) AFF 2016
BUILD BELIEVABLE RELATIONSHIPS
The challenge of making the movie better is making all of the characters believable, and if there’s a triangle involved, making the choice an actual choice and making the audience not sure who they would pick or why— making all two or three characters fully developed.
-Marc Silverstein (co-writer Never Been Kissed, He’s Just Not That Into You, How to Be Single, I Feel Pretty) AFF 2012
FOCUS ON THE NOW
You’re relying on what you’ve actually experienced. You’re relying on, “Why this story now?” What makes telling this story a story that needs to be told now, and what makes it different than if you had told this story ten years ago? So, I think those are all things we fall back upon to figure out why and how a particular scene would be different, unique, interesting, and worth watching.
-Michael H Weber (co-writer The Disaster Artist, (500) Days of Summer, The Spectacular Now, The Fault In Our Stars) AFF 2016
ROOT YOUR COMEDY IN REALISM
The comedy piece I think comes from total commitment and realism. What’s really funny is when the stakes are high and you’re in a situation that’s very real to you, like a long-distance relationship that everybody can relate to, and then you just kind of push that envelope—push it as far as you can. But it has to come from real, true stakes for the characters.
-Dana Stevens (writer City of Angels, Life or Something Like It, Safe Haven, creator What About Brian, Reckless) AFF 2012
OWN THE GENRE
We used to refer to things as, “No, it’s a relationship story.”…because we were afraid to say rom-com. Now, if you’re writing a rom-com, make that the title, and you might sell it. That’s what everybody wants now.
-Scott Neustadter co-writer The Disaster Artist, (500) Days of Summer, The Spectacular Now, The Fault in Our Stars) AFF 2018
EMBRACE THE CLICHÉS—AND BUILD ON THEM
One of the things I always think about when I’m writing is not necessarily specific clichés to avoid, but I always think about, “Have I seen this before?” and “What’s the better version of this that people aren’t doing? How can I turn that on its head?” And I don’t always get it right, but I’m always thinking about it.
-Geoff LaTulippe (writer Going the Distance) AFF 2012
For more on crafting the romantic comedy, check out our On Story episode Deconstructing Nora Ephron, recorded at the 2018 Austin Film Festival & Writers Conference.
Want to hear these tips first hand? Join us at this year’s Writers Conference (Oct. 24 – 27, 2019) where we’ll hear from rom-com writers like Sofia Alvarez (writer To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before) and more! For more information on how to attend, click here.