Think Like a Romantic Comedy

Romantic comedies are unique in that there usually isn’t a single, dominant villain trying to stop the hero from accomplishing anything. In most action films like James Bond or Mission Impossible films, there’s always a single, dominant villain who opposes the hero. In romantic comedies, the biggest villain stopping the hero is the hero himself (or herself).

Usually what stops the hero from achieving true love in a romantic comedy is the hero’s own deception and lies. In “While You Were Sleeping,” the hero pretends to be the fiancĂ© of a man in a coma. In “Tootsie,” an actor pretends to be a woman. In “The Big Sick,” a Pakistani comedian hides his relationship with a white girl to avoid upsetting his family who wants to arrange a marriage for him. In all cases, the hero’s biggest problem is to avoid the consequences of his or her own deception, and that means having to change.

Forcing the hero to acknowledge and confront his or her own flaws is the key to what makes romantic comedies so emotionally satisfying (when they’re good), and that’s also the key to making any story emotionally satisfying as well regardless of its genre.

“Die Hard” isn’t about just fighting terrorists alone in a skyscraper. It’s really about a man wanting to get back with his wife and realizing his own arrogance is what broke them apart in the first place.

“Rocky” isn’t about a man fighting the heavyweight champion of the world. It’s really about a man wanting to prove to himself that he’s not a bum and a loser.

“Titanic” isn’t about a woman trying to survive a sinking ocean liner. It’s really about a woman trying to take control of her own life.

Romantic comedies are unique in that there’s rarely a single villain keeping the hero from finding true love. More often it’s the hero him or herself who’s keeping true love away and the only way the hero can achieve true love is by changing. Changing and realizing his or her faults is the key to making any story emotionally satisfying regardless of explosions, special effects, and car crashes.

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