Friday, October 28, 2011

‘Writing the Romantic Comedy’

Here is a review that I wrote for back in 2004:

I’m a sucker for romantic comedies. Watching stories about cuddly, charismatic couples falling in love can turn this hard-bitten cynic into a mushy puddle of Jell-O in no time.  They’re this writer’s Achilles’ heel. You could show me the worst romantic comedy ever made, and I’d still probably find something good to say about it.  So, I was delighted to come across Billy Mernit’s Writing the Romantic Comedy. 

Although I’ve done some screenwriting in my time, my head isn’t exactly bursting with ideas for romantic comedies.  But since I’m an admirer of the genre, Mernit’s book felt like a guided tour through a favorite building when you don’t have any plans to construct a building of your own. 

Hollywood producers notoriously hate to read, so if you’re a Hollywood writer, you need to pick up a few tricks to make reading as easy for them (or their surrogates) as possible.  As a writer for the entertainment industry, Mernit has obviously picked up a few tricks of his own, making his book a brisk and enjoyable read.  The historical overview is appreciated almost as much as Mernit’s disassemblies of some of the rom-com’s stand-outs to show how the genre ticks. 

Although the book is sprinkled with a few factual errors (for example, on page 177, he refers to author Milan Kundera as “Polish” instead of Czech), these aren’t enough to upset the taco stand.  Mernit’s explanations of the genre’s components are straightforward, artful, but clearly presented.  And his dubbing of the Mr. Wrong character (a convention in many rom-coms) as the “Bellamy,” after actor Ralph Bellamy who specialized in such roles, had me laughing out loud.  My only criticism of the book is a mild one: There ought to have been at least a handful of movie stills illustrating some of the films that Mernit talks about at length — this would have heightened the book’s visual interest. I highly recommend Writing the Romantic Comedy even if you’re not a screenwriter. Understanding how the genre works may make you appreciate it even more. 

I do have one word of advice for aspiring screenwriters: If you’re just starting out in the craft, you won’t want this to be the first book on the subject that you read. Start off with something that teaches you the nuts and bolts of scribing for the movies, like Screenplay by Syd Field or one of its clones.  Next, I would recommend Writing the Character-Centered Screenplay by Andrew Horton, which talks a little more in depth about the vital components of character and structure.  For good measure, you might also want to check out Making a Good Script Great by Linda Segar for advice about how to tighten a screenplay.  Only then will you want to give Mernit’s book a thorough going-over.  If you’re an old hand at screenwriting, you’re probably already familiar with these books. 

Once you’ve got all of them under your belt, you’ll be inspired to sit down at the keyboard and write and write.  It may only be your name over and over, but you’ll still be inspired to write.

A few months later, I came back and typed: I take it back.  I’ve seen the worst romantic comedy ever made.  It's called Soap Girl.  I can’t think of a good thing to say about it.

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