Seven Story Beats To Help Outline Your Romantic Comedy

There is nothing simple about writing a romantic comedy, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. Before you start outlining your script, let me offer some advice. First, make sure you’ve watched a decent amount of the most successful rom-coms of all time – here’s a list over at Box Office Mojo.  Rom-coms have specific story beats that must be hit to make the story work.

My second piece of advice is to watch a couple of rom-coms with the story beats and compare them to each other –  see how the beats unfold in each movie and take note when the beats are executed in a unique or unusual way, then consider how you can do this in your own script.  Of course there is a lot more to writing a great rom-com (rich characters, deep emotions, solid comedy/humor and a unique story) but lets just start with the seven story beats.

Billy Mernit defines the “seven basic romantic comedy beats” in his book  Writing the Romantic Comedy   as… (its truly an excellent book, I highly recommend it!)

1. The Chemical Equation: Setup
A scene or sequence identifying the exterior and /or interior conflict (i.e. unfulfilled desire), the “what’s wrong with this picture” implied in the protagonist’s (and/or the antagonist’s) current status quo.

2. Cute Meet: The Catalyst
The inciting incident that brings man and woman [or man and man or woman and woman] together and into conflict; an inventive but credible contrivance, often amusing, which in some way sets the tone for the action to come.

3. A Sexy Complication: Turning Point
Traditionally occurring at the end of Act 1, a new development that raises story stakes and clearly defines the protagonist’s goal; most successful when it sets man and woman at cross-purposes and/or their inner emotions at odds with the goal.

4. The Hook: Midpoint
A situation that irrevocably binds the protagonist with the antagonist (often while tweaking sexual tensions) and has further implications for the outcome of the relationship.

5. Swivel: Second Turning Point
Traditionally occurring at the end of Act 2, stakes reach their highest point as the romantic relationship’s importance jeopardizes the protagonist’s chance to succeed at his [or her] stated goad–or vice versa–and his [or her] goal shifts.

6. The Dark Moment: Crisis Climax
Wherein the consequences of the swivel decision yield disaster; generally, the humiliating scene where private motivations are revealed, and either the relationship and/or the protagonist’s goal is seemingly lost forever.

7. Joyful Defeat: Resolution
A reconciliation that reaffirms the primal importance of the relationship; usually a happy ending that implies marriage or a serious commitment, often at the cost of some personal sacrifice to the protagonist.

Make sure these beats are in your outline and try to make them as unique and interesting as you can. It will really pay off when it comes time to write you script.  And again, if you want to make romantic comedies your power genre, I highly recommend Billy Mernit’s book.

You can also check out his blog “Living The Romantic Comedy” here.

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