How to Write the Romantic Comedy Screenplay Structure
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.
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!