• Grace A. Johnson

Romance Q&A Pt. 5: Comedy, Romance Movies, & Unintended Romance


Well...there are a few painful confessions in this bunch of questions! Who knows what hard truths you might learn about yours truly!

Seriously, though, I had to put some thought into these! Y'all asked some tough questions, and I hope I did them justice! (And didn't ramble too much...as per usual.)

 

saraina's question


What are your tips for pulling off non-cheesy romantic comedies (or just including those elements in stories)?


Ha. Ha ha ha.

Um. Saraina.

I suck at comedy (pardon my language). Like, I literally can’t consciously write a comedy to save my life. *sobs*

Keyword: consciously.

No one can write anything convincingly when they’re in their head–but if you just focus on being natural and authentic, you can pull almost anything off.

So let’s take a look at the three most common kinds of comedy in novels: comedy of errors, wit, and humor.

Comedy of errors/comedic situations: To be honest, I feel like this one is either insanely cheesy or insanely good. Balancing the wacky plots and cringe-worthy faux pas with loveable characters and a believable storyline can be difficult. So my advice is to be subtle–don’t push for over-the-top premises or crazy characters. Just be natural. Create characters who are competent, but also have their flaws. Create situations that are realistic, but just don’t fit the character well (thereby causing them to make a few hilarious mistakes).

And if you plan on doing a comedy of errors or having a comedic plot, just stick with one plotline and make the most of it! Don’t feel like you have to throw in eighty-five comedic elements when your one character or situation is more than enough.

Witty repartee/banter: It may not seem like much, but Hollywood’s Golden Age comedies and classic satire novels used clashes of wit and will to create some of the best comedies ever. Instead of laugh-track comedy, try some sophisticated wit. This works best for historical fiction and romance, because it’s built off of strong chemistry and character dynamics, and it also seems more authentic and natural!

Plus, I’m a sucker for witty banter.

When it comes to creating witty character interactions, it starts with–you guessed it–the characters! Create characters who are startlingly different and are practically forced to work together, and don’t let an opportunity for them to butt heads pass you by!

Humor: The classic hilarious comments that get everyone in the audience laughing–even when there’s no one in the audience. *winks* The thing about humor is that a little goes a long way, and not everyone should be responsible for the laughable remarks. Pick a character or two for comic relief, and don’t forget your grumpy sarcastic one to provide them with fodder. Set up a couple running jokes or inside remarks even readers will catch on to. The point is to get the readers to laugh, after all!

Which means even if your story isn’t inherently funny, as long as your readers are cracking up, you’ve done something right!

In my experience, I have a little bit of all three. I have situations where characters are forced to do things they otherwise wouldn’t–and fumble the whole way through. I have snarky characters and comic reliefs. I have some wit and banter that keeps things lively. But I don’t ever sit down and make a conscious effort to be funny–I just can’t. I rely on Rina’s commentary mostly to keep the ball rolling. *winks*

On that note, having a unique character who puts a different spin on pretty much everything always helps with humor! Like I said, it’s the readers who should laugh, so use narrative to your advantage by employing your characters’ unique voices throughout!

And that’s all I’ve got. Maybe one day I’ll learn how to write a full-blown romcom. For now, I’ll just let Rina have fun and hope my readers have the same sense of humor.


What are the most romantic scenes you've watched from movies?


Oh, goodness. Believe it or not, I don’t really watch a lot of romance movies. NOT for lacking of wanting to, though. I just…live with a lot of guys and kids. So the most romance I get is Peter and MJ.

Which, to be fair, isn’t all that bad. Romantic subplots in action movies, I mean. Peter and MJ (the Sam Raimi version, that is) are kinda cringe.

Let’s seeeeee…

Pretty much any scene in Pride and Prejudice (2005). From the hand flex to the declaration of love…gah. So beautiful.

I’d like to mention a scene or two from Gone with the Wind, but omgosh did Rhett and Scarlett have the most volatile relationship. I adore them, but yeesh. They’re not great examples of romance.

THIS SCENE from Signed, Sealed, Delivered. Actually, any scene with Shane and Oliver is just FULL of romantic angst, and I love it. But this scene in particular.

And can I say the entire Thanksgiving date with Rocky and Adrian? Like…they are so adorable and precious and I love them. The most fumbling, bumbling, cringe-worthy anything…and yet so sweet. *sighs*

(Guys, I am literally racking my brain right now for romantic scenes. Wtheck, y’all. I can think of a few scenes from TV shows, but omword I have apparently only seen like two romance movies in my life. *groans* I mean, I’ve watched my fair share of Hallmark, but that doesn’t cut it for me. And the Jane Austen movies I’ve seen–P&P not included–have been more romance vibes than romance scenes.)

I give up.

I need romance movie recs, people. Please. Save me.

Do you let any of your siblings read your romance stories?


Oh, man. Wow. First off, none of my siblings like to read. Second, most of them are under the age of ten, so…yeah.

My sister has read my published books, but I may have had to bribe her to do so.

Maybe the babies will grow up to love reading and enjoy romance–if not, I may have to resort to extortion.


How do you decide when the first kiss and/or declaration of love will happen for your characters?


I don’t. I used to have this subconscious idea of when-ish each should occur–in my early days as a writer, it was a kiss scene within the last fourth of the book, a declaration of love right at the end. Suffice it to say, as neat as that wrapped up the story, it made for a very long middle and a lot of emotional back-and-forth. *sighs*

Then, in the Held Captive days, I was into the idea of having a kiss (more consequential than out of affection) early on and a declaration of love in the last fourth. It does work and can be very beneficial to have an early first kiss…but you have to be wise about it.

So in comes Prisoner at Heart and Bound and Determined. PAH’s romance timeline was a little easire to work with, very cut-and-dry, and quite similar to HC. They kissed–accidentally–early on, moved on from that, then started to develop true feelings for each other and kissed purposefully this time, and admitted their love close to the end. To be honest, I had so few scenes between Elliot and Crimson that I really didn’t put much thought into how their relationship unfolded. It was almost more of a sideplot, to be honest.

Which was *chef’s kiss*. It made their relationship more emotional and natural, and it helped the story flow well.

As for BAD, it is SUCH a long book that the pacing is quite off. So even though Keat and Daisy don’t kiss until, like, twenty-eight chapters into the story, that’s still in the first third (ish) of the book. And there is no “declaration of love” scene, and there are certain things that happen a little earlier than usual in most romances.

SO, case in point, lately, as I write these monumental moments in romances, I’ve begun to pay more attention to (1) my characters and (2) the flow of the story. If my character wouldn’t flat-out say “I love you,” they aren’t going to. If my characters are the sort that would kiss without any real feeling behind it, they will. And if my story needs to focus more on the plot in the first half than the romance, it will. If my story needs to wrap up the romance before the official end of the book, it will.

When it comes to writing a book that’s a romance and something else (like with mine), following a specific timeline or structure is pointless. That romantic subplot is going to come in earlier or later or end sooner or later than the main plot–and that’s perfectly all right. Go with the flow.

And if you do find that you wrote a scene you shouldn’t have, or you didn’t write a scene you needed, you can always go in and change things!

So, basically, I just try to listen to my characters and let them guide me through the story! And, believe me, they will. There’s one moment in BAD that I NEVER planned, but am so glad Keaton put into motion!


joelle's question


What do you do when romance comes in to your book AND IT'S NOT SUPPOSED TO BE THERE?!!?


The answer is in the question, my dear! If the romance has entered your story all on its own, it is supposed to be there. I know, I know. It’s such an inconvenience and something you absolutely despise and it doesn’t fit the idea you had in mind and now you’ll have to rewrite this–

But guess what?

You just surpassed a level of writerly awesomeness a lot of us haven’t yet. You made it to the place where you are so immersed in your story and characters that they’ve begun forming relationships without your permission!

(Y’all, I am such a strict mother that none of my characters are allowed to have relationships without my permission. I have literally never had this happen to me, where a romance sprang up where one wasn’t planted. I have to plan them out every time.)

So, first off, savor that, girl. Savor it.

Secondly, if it is absolutely natural for your characters to start falling in love, why would you cut that off? It’d be the same as forcing them to fall in love when they didn’t want to, you know?

So if they have natural chemistry and are working together like peaches and cream, I wouldn’t be letting that opportunity pass you by any time soon.

Now, say you take the bull by the horns and run with it…what the heck are you gonna do if you’ve never written a romance before in your life?

Boy howdy, have I got news for you!

If that chemistry I mentioned can just start sizzling all on its own, and that romance starts blossoming without you trying, then don’t feel like you have to put a ton of work into it! Just go with the flow. Let your characters and the natural progression of your story have control, and–to paraphrase William Faulkner–you just mosey on along behind it and jot down what’s goin’ on!

If you get too trigger-happy and jump the gun on the romance, you’ll end up in that same place of forcing it. Take things slow and steady and subtle!

And like I said above in my answer to Saraina’s question, if the story and characters call for lots of kisses and mushy confessions of love, go for it! But, if all that’s required is one tender moment, even better! Just because you’ve got a romantic subplot doesn’t mean you have to dump a whole ton of gush into your story! I can literally count on one hand how many scenes Elliot and Crimson have being romantic with each other in PAH, and I mentioned once that Keaton and Daisy are only alone together 20% of the time in BAD, and most of that’s them arguing!

It’s quality over quantity, my peeps. *winks*


ava's question


I enjoy writing very much, but seem to have trouble with writing romance. I feel like whenever I write it, it seems cheesy. I guess my question here is how to make the romance feel more natural? Like, how to make it flow better. Transitions between characters’ feelings and what they're doing, then moving on to another topic....all that. If that makes sense. Because the last thing I want my writing to come across as forced. I don't want my romances (which are usually just side plots) to seem forced or weird or unnatural. Are there any tips you could possibly share with me?


Makes perfect sense, Ava! I know forced, weird, and unnatural pretty much described my first romances to a T. *coughs* So let’s start at the root of the problem, shall we?

Forced relationships are usually the result of no chemistry. If your characters have no chemistry, there won’t be any bickering, bantering, or emotion in their interactions. It’ll be quick small talk or rehearsed lines instead of natural conversations peppered with inside jokes, knowing looks, and genuine feelings.

Here are some tips to increase the chemistry between your characters:

  • Pay attention to your characters’ differences and commonalities, even if that means making a Venn Diagram.

  • Have fun with comedic situations, funny encounters, banter, and arguments—you can cut out what’s fluff later and keep what contributes to development!

  • Learn about romance tropes and figure out which one(s) fit your characters—that’ll help guide the direction of their romance and give you examples to refer back to.

  • Develop your characters’ relationship/background without their romance—whether that’s in an outline, prologue/prequel, or through backstory.

  • Take a few scenes to just enhance their relationship, through conversations, collaboration, and more, without throwing in kisses and mushy speeches.

If none of these seem to help, you may have paired the wrong characters! Try revamping your characters’ personalities (which will alter the characters’ dynamic; more on that later), giving your main character a different love interest, or inventing new characters entirely!

Weird love stories are typically due to unrealistic situations. Sometimes you can get away with the weird and zany or with different, unique settings and storylines. But if you feel like your romance is just a little too strange, do some research and observe real life! Maybe the relationship seems unrealistic (like a romance between step-siblings or an age-gap romance), or the premise isn’t right for their relationship to blossom–but a lot of times, real life will reveal it’s not so strange after all! A historical couple could’ve been step-siblings or your grandparents could’ve met and fallen in love in a situation just like your characters! If you as the author can see your story as realistic, that will often come through in your actual writing–you’ve gotta believe it to convince your readers of it, after all!

But sometimes it’s not all in your head. Take a step back and look at your story. Are you putting too much thought into the romance? Are you pushing your characters together at every turn? Are you turning every moment into a mushy one charged with attraction? In my experience, I only ever think of a romance as “weird” if (1) the characters are totally wrong for each other in every way and don’t exhibit any traits of being in love with one another, and (2) the author is trying too hard.

DON’T! Don’t try to follow a strict set of rules or other romance books or the idea that everything has to be romantic for the story to be a romance. Just go with the flow. Be natural. You’ll often find that less is more and subtlety is key.

(Plus, it’s easier to go in and write an extra romance scene or two than cut ones you’ve already written and grown attached to. *winks*)

Unnatural romances are commonly caused by poor dynamics. Similar to chemistry, character dynamics are SO important for how your characters fit with each other and how their romance progresses. Dynamic is more like who the characters are and what their relationship looks like rather than each individual interaction. You can follow the tips for chemistry for dynamics, but I’d try digging a little deeper!

  • List certain aspects about your hero and heroine–their personalities, appearances, fears and dreams, occupation and goals, etc. Are there any differences? Anything that could cause conflict? Any common ground? If they seem too similar or too different, you might want to change a few things. But if you find a balance of similarities and differences, common ground and conflict, you’re on the right track!

  • Timeline their relationship. How/when/where did they meet? Why are they together now? What obstacles do they have to overcome in their relationship? Why have they stuck it out? When did they realize they loved each other? When will one or the other “make a move”? If your timeline follows the cliche “boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy and girl get back together and live happily ever after,” you might wanna rethink how everything transpires. But if you include a few unexpected twists, the timeline feels natural, and their relationship is woven into the plot perfectly, you’re good to go!

  • Consider their needs/weaknesses/faults. Has your heroine suffered from unrequited love–and your hero falls for her first? Has your hero been abandoned–and your heroine is the only one who stays? Think about what they each need in a relationship–does the other character fulfill it? Are they perfect for each? (Not perfect entirely, but just exactly what God knew they needed.) If neither character truly gains anything from the relationship, or worse–one gives and the other does nothing but take–and they don’t have a positive impact on each other, you’ve got a problem. But if they fit together like puzzle pieces, and God uses them and their relationship for good, you’ve got a fantastic relationship on your hands!

Basically, what makes them different from every other guy and gal? What makes the heroine stand out to the hero, and vice versa? Why should their relationship progress into a romance and not someone else’s or the MC and a different love interest? Why do they choose to love each other above anyone else (apart from God)?

If you can start at the root of the problem, chances are you won’t have those problems. Create unique but genuine characters; establish their relationship in a realistic way; follow a natural timeline; don’t turn everything into a lovey-dovey scene; and believe it. Believe yourself that your characters are meant to be together…and you’ll be able to convince your readers of the same!

And, my number one rule, TREAT IT LIKE A RELATIONSHIP, FOR GOSH’S SAKE.

The bane of all romance writers–especially newbies–is thinking a romance is a genre, a category, a list of elements that must be included, a trope that must be rewritten exactly how it’s presented.

But guess what?

It’s not.

Romance is a relationship just like any other one, and if you can focus on letting it flow as smooth and natural as any other relationship, it will. Like I said earlier, don’t try too hard! Don’t put a lot of thought into it (until you’re editing, that is). If you want the low-down on writing romance as a relationship, check out this post HERE!

*sighs* Hopefully that helps, Ava! (And wasn’t too much of a ramble.) In the end, practice makes perfect! Just keep at it, and eventually you’ll find everything flowing as smooth as melted chocolate! (Trust me.)


abigail's question


So you already answered what to do when characters are pretty much opposites–but how do you build a romance when they are really similar? What if they're both grumpy? Is it bad to have romances between similar, but (definitely) not identical people?


First of all, I love this question! It’s definitely not a bad thing to have romances between similar people–at all! You may have heard “opposites attract,” but I love to counter with “like marries like.” Which is true in many ways. For a relationship–especially a marriage–to work, both partners have to have something in common. It may not be personalities or interests, but similar values and traditions. Or it may be personalities and interests, but different ideals and standards. Either way, common ground makes for a much better foundation than shifting sand!

But we’re talking about personalities right now–specifically grumpy characters (my favorites)–which leads me (back) to one of my couples…

Elliot and Crimson.

When I first outlined these two characters, I was kinda shocked by how similar they were. Sure, they were enemies, but their personalities were so much alike, and though the sources of their struggles were different, they reacted in similar ways. They were both headstrong and outspoken, personable but sarcastic, and both were always getting into trouble.

Not only did this make them butt heads all the time, it also helped unite them and gave them a great foundation for their relationship. They could understand each other and emphasize more than if they had been so different.

So, when it boils down to it, what are the steps you should take to build a romance between similar characters?

Well, I’d start by highlighting both sides–their similarities and differences. If you lean too much on their similarities, it’ll look like you were too lazy to create different characters (which *coughs* none of us are, of course)...but if you lean too much on their differences, their similarities will be lost in the muddle. Make sense? So, if you’re writing an enemies-to-lovers romance (which doesn’t have to be a full-blown they’re-trying-to-kill-each-other rivalry, just one where they don’t like each other right off the bat), start by establishing how different they are. If you’re doing friends-to-lovers (or they like each other right off the bat), showcase their similarities.

Then, as their relationship progresses, the enemies will see what they have in common, and the friends will see how they’re different–and thereby more compatible on all fronts. Make sense?

Once you enter the progression stage, establish a tangible connection. Think of it as a single moment where something shifts. Although the characters don’t have to recognize when it shifts (In the famous words of Mr. Darcy, “I cannot fix on the hour, or the spot, or the look, or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun.”), you as the author should be able to pinpoint a “climax” in their relationship. For Elliot and Crimson, it was that moment where Crimson opens her heart and Elliot apologizes for being selfish (*coughs* the snippet I shared here).

Anyway, whether it’s a confession or an argument or a rescue attempt, something needs to happen that takes them from enemies/friends/whatever to something more. And not just more in a romantic way; I mean more in platonic way too. In that they understand each other better, rely on each other, become each other’s confidant, and share something deep and meaningful.

That’s when those similarities really come into play. *winks*

Speaking of, when it comes to similarities and differences, the rule I like to go by is that they’re similar in the ways that matter–ideals, morals, values, etc.–and different in the ways that make them better. One may be physically weak but super smart; the other is very strong and of average intelligence. Or one’s an introvert, the other’s an extrovert. One’s scared and anxious, the other’s impulsive and fearless.

Balancing that is the fun part. Maybe the introvert/extrovert love the same kind of books. Maybe the smart/strong work together or have the same cause. Maybe the anxious/fearless have the same goals and dreams.

I’m rambling now, aren’t I? *chuckles* Basically, just make sure that their similarities and differences serve a purpose and build one another up–rather than just being thrown in and making it harder for the characters to connect.

Hopefully that helps! It’s just a matter of balance and making sure the characters’ qualities are authentic. Building their relationship won’t be much different than with any other types of characters!

 

Okay, y'all. Bring on the movie recommendations, please. And let me know - what are your tips for comedy? (Especially romantic comedy!) Has romance ever popped up where it wasn't supposed to in your story? I'd love to hear all about it!

And don't forget, if you have more questions, drop them here, and if you'd like to check out my previous posts, you can find them here, here, here, and here!


yours in spirit and script,

Grace


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