How to Write the Romantic Comedy Screenplay Structure

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No new stories! Really?

It's been said that there are no new stories to be told. In some sense that may be true, however, you haven't heard the story the way I want to tell it.  You see, as writers we get to unleash our creativity, our play with words, and our imaginations.  We can take a story that has good structure and use it as often as we want to and completely bamboozle our audience into thinking it's a brand new story. 

This is why there are literally hundreds of versions of the Cinderella story and why more are being produced every day.  Even the most popular of stories can be reproduced into a completely new story. Don't believe me?  Check out the image I borrowed below.

Kal Bashir has many more visual representations of storylines similar to the one above on his site which is hyperlinked as the source of the image.
Kal Bashir has many more visual representations of storylines similar to the one above on his site which is hyperlinked as the source of the image. | Source
The dream of most screenwriters is to win the Oscar!
The dream of most screenwriters is to win the Oscar!

Elements of a Romantic Comedy

Now that we have dispelled the myths about no new stories, we can focus now on why we are here. We're here to learn the structure and elements of a romantic comedy screenplay.

The romantic comedy is an immensely popular genre and one that many new screenwriters should try to master. Screenwriters write for money and there is a lot of money to be made with romantic comedies. In fact, a romantic comedy movie has made over $100 million every single year since 1993 beginning with that little film Sleepless in Seattle.

Before I begin a new romantic comedy script I study the romantic comedies that did well this year. I find a few scripts online, usually at Drew's Script-O-Rama, and read through them while taking notes of any similarities. I figure, why reinvent the wheel when all I have to do is make the wheel look better than the last one. I also study a few of the movies that didn't do so well to see what went wrong and if there is a way to improve it.

To do this, you have to know the basic structure and elements that go into a good romantic comedy:

1. The main character must be in pursuit of 2 desires. The first desire is of course the romance character that he/she will do anything to win the love of that desire. The second object of desire will always conflict with the first desire which will result in humorous situations.

2. The main character will always devise some type of deception in order to pursue his desires. The deception is always outrageous and is ultimately revealed usually by the nemesis. And the nemesis plays a big role in providing obstacles for the main character in his/her pursuit.

3. Never describe the romance. Only describe the events that lead to romantic encounters. Show the audience why the two love interests are meant to be together against all insurmountable odds.

4. Give it a happy ending. The romance characters must end up together or at the very least the audience must believe that they will end up together eventually. This will give a sense of justice to the screenplay.

Now that you are armed with the basic structure of a romantic comedy it's time to get to know your characters and their situations. Answer these following questions before you try to make any dialogue or even work on script format.

Who does the hero pursue romantically?

What additional desire does the hero pursue?

What event will send the hero on his pursuit?

What deception will the hero devise to pursue both his desires?

What event will draw the two main characters together, or almost together?

How will the hero's deception be revealed?

How will the hero win his love interest?

Who is the hero?

Why is he so desperate to pursue his desires?

How will the romance be in the best interest of the Hero?

What insurmountable obstacle separates the hero from desire #1?

What insurmountable obstacle separates the hero from desire #2?

How is the romance character connected to desire #2?

What obstacles does the romance character create for both of the hero's desires?

Who is the nemesis and what obstacles does he/she create for both the hero's desires?

Who is the character of reason and how does he/she support the hero and his pursuit?

Who else supports the hero?


Outline and Structure

Now you have all the background information you need to make your outline. I make my outlines in a step progression of the movie. I know that a comedy is fast paced and that scenes should be about 2 minutes long. So, for a 90 minute movie I'm going to need at least 45 scenes.

Number 1 - 45 and proceed to write a short description and progression of events. This is the formula that I use:

10% Set-up the daily life of the main character in a way the the audience can identify with.

15% Reveal the situation and desires of the main character.

25% Show the progress of the main characters pursuits and create a situation where there is a point of no return midway through the movie.

25% Show the complications, the obstacles and all the set-backs that the main character must overcome.

20% - 24% Show the transformation of the main character as he risks everything he once was to achieve his ultimate desire. Make the conflict overwhelming and accelerated so that everything works against the hero until the final climax where the hero must make a decision and determine his own fate.

1% Reveal the new life of the hero now that the journey is complete. Make sure it's a happy ending so the audience can have a sense of hope that everything will always work out in the end.

Once you have your outline complete, head on over to Scriptbuddy.com where you can enjoy the FREE tools to properly format your script. You will also have the opportunity to get community feedback on your story as well as print your completed script so you can submit it to an agent or producer.

With any luck, maybe we'll be seeing you at the Oscars!

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Comments 26 comments

Violet Flame profile image

Violet Flame 6 years ago from Auckland, NZ

wow, amazing example of "There's no new stories under the sun" when you transformed Star War into Harry Potter in a few simple strikes of your magic pen! My eyes nearly fell out of their sockets, but I am sure you are very used to the effect your example had on people by now, lol.

I am a real sucker for Romantic Comedies and I have always dreamed of writing one one day. Now that seemingly impossible dream might not be so impossible anymore with all the wonderful tips you are gifting us here. Loved it, thank you.


livewithrichard profile image

livewithrichard 6 years ago from Charleston, SC Author

I love the Romantic comedy genre too Violet. Mine tend to be darker and more sarcastic but that's the way I write. As I suggested in this article, study the movies in the genre to see what works and what doesn't work so well. With just a few strikes of your pen you could have the next $100 million script. Good luck and thanks for the visit.


Violet Flame profile image

Violet Flame 6 years ago from Auckland, NZ

and you are SO Right about giving the romance comedy a happy ending. I almost refuse to read a book or watch a movie without a happy ending as I just get so unreasonably angry! I guess life is hard enough without us getting our hope dashed at the cinema as well, right?

I am just wondering whether you have any particular romantic comedies you could recommend. I have my favorite ones but I am sure there are other great ones out there that can help me sharpen that quill. Thanks once again for the great hub.


livewithrichard profile image

livewithrichard 6 years ago from Charleston, SC Author

Sure, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, What Women Want, Sweet Home Alabama, There's Something About Mary, Groundhog Day, Twilight. These should get you started, then check out my hub on Scriptbuddy http://hubpages.com/hub/ScriptBuddy where you will find how to properly format a script and all the software is online and fee.


Violet Flame profile image

Violet Flame 6 years ago from Auckland, NZ

Fantastic!! Oh I can't remember how many times I watched Groundhog Day! It's funny but also inspiring at the same time, what a great combination. will hop into scriptbuddy, thank you so much for all the wonderful tips!


ltfawkes profile image

ltfawkes 6 years ago from NE Ohio

This is great. Anything that dispels the notion that there's something supernatural or mysterious about writing gets my approval. Thanks.

L.T.


Nando's profile image

Nando's 6 years ago from Pretoria, South Africa

Thank you for very useful hub. I've rated up & useful.


OrlandoC profile image

OrlandoC 6 years ago from Glen Ridge

I am working on a romcom so I knew a lot of this stuff but its still great advice. Keep the great hubs coming.


livewithrichard profile image

livewithrichard 6 years ago from Charleston, SC Author

Thanks for the great comments everyone. Good luck on your romantic comedies.


Rfeedah93 5 years ago

I found it VERY useful. It looks as though I have a long way to go before I accomplish any scripts whatsoever~ Newbie~ :( Nevertheless, I found it helpful.


Albertioti 5 years ago

That visual example is excellent. And so is the site it came from: http://www.clickok.co.uk/index4.html


livewithrichard profile image

livewithrichard 5 years ago from Charleston, SC Author

Yes Albertioti it is a great site. The copyright on the image above is in tact bu thtis article was written prior to us being allowed to hyperlink their source. Thanks for the read and the comment.


C.Y. Falvey profile image

C.Y. Falvey 5 years ago from Nova Scotia

Excellent article! I found the questions particularly useful - posing questions is my favourite way of delving into whatever story I'm creating, romantic comedy or otherwise.


livewithrichard profile image

livewithrichard 5 years ago from Charleston, SC Author

Thank you C.Y. I'm glad you found this article useful and good luck with your stories.


Powerpoe1 profile image

Powerpoe1 5 years ago

Thank you very much for the helpful information. I have interests in playwriting, acting, and etc.

I will be making a career change in the next two years. I am using Hubpages as my platform to gain more experience and insight. I love writing articles and putting together info to complete the puzzle. I have found your hubs to be very useful.

Thanks again!


Joe Bricky profile image

Joe Bricky 5 years ago from Modesto CA

Very good article. Nice use of the Star Wars/Harry Potter comparison. I've written two screenplays to date -- a hobby, so far. Thanks for the good tips.


livewithrichard profile image

livewithrichard 5 years ago from Charleston, SC Author

Kal Bashir put that comparison together and very telling. Good luck on your screenplays. I've written over a dozen and have one right now being reviewed by an agent. It's a hobby until I sell one... :)


mikaylab93 profile image

mikaylab93 5 years ago from Middleton, Idaho

Awesome tips! There were some great pointers in here! Maybe I will put my novel writing on a hold for a while, you have got me interested in screen play writing now! Thanks for the fantastic read, I wrote down a bunch of notes in my writing notebook! =)


livewithrichard profile image

livewithrichard 5 years ago from Charleston, SC Author

Actually Mikay, you should probably pursue both avenues of writing. They are both completely different styles of writing, one shows the other tells. Practice your show and tell :)


mikaylab93 profile image

mikaylab93 5 years ago from Middleton, Idaho

Thanks Richard, good advice =). I will keep practising with both!


JasonPLittleton profile image

JasonPLittleton 5 years ago

Interesting topic, livewithrichard. Great advises here and I enjoyed reading them. Thanks.


TheNewCinders 4 years ago

Where did you get that pic of the Harry Potter and the Star Wars thing?? I have always said HP is more like SW than it is Lord of The Rings - but everyone here is blinded by the wizardry. There are soooooo many similarities! Hilarious! Love them both so I don't mind :)


livewithrichard profile image

livewithrichard 4 years ago from Charleston, SC Author

Haha, I never noticed a similarity between HP and LOTR. By the way, the source is linked right under the picture. It just proves that with a little imagination and creativity that even the oldest of stories can be brought into a new light. It's probably the reason there are hundreds of versions to the Cinderella story.


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 3 years ago from Oakley, CA

Astonishing! I would never have put that together. I'll have to start watching things more closely from here on out.


livewithrichard profile image

livewithrichard 3 years ago from Charleston, SC Author

If you enjoy the story or movie then no need to analyze it, when its good its good :)


Nadine May profile image

Nadine May 2 years ago from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

Again a great hub on screenwriting. I'm still in the information stages on how to turn my novels into a movie script. It is such a different skill and format that it still have to get my head around it. Many thanks.

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