Getting your readers to laugh and fall in love at the same time requires a delicate balance, not a sledgehammer. A successful romantic comedy novel utilizes keen wit while drawing on the full gamut of emotions—and that’s where things get tough. How do you write a compelling story the reader will remember, with a backbone of humor that will have them laughing out loud when they turn that last page?
- “You’re so funny!” If no one has ever said this to you, stop right now and skip to another article. You can’t force humor, and if you try, you’ll end up with a hot mess even your best friend won’t be able to slog through. Comedy is in a person’s DNA. But those without the humor gene are great at other things. I mean, nobody ever described Ernest Hemingway as a barrel of laughs, but he still got by. For a person born with it, being funny is like breathing. Writing funny, on the other hand, is the true challenge. But it’s one that comes with a huge reward if done right.
- Let me grab my planner … Oh, wait, I don’t have one. Okay, so this is a bit of an exaggeration. You don’t need to be a complete pantser to write a dynamic rom-com. But you certainly can’t count on careful plotting and outlining to compose a successful romantic comedy scene. It must come from someplace more spontaneous. Believe it or not, the stream of consciousness can often produce hilarious consequences. It can also result in a Uni-bomber-style collection of words that could possibly get you committed should you leave your laptop unattended. That aside, a brilliantly funny scene can unfold if you just let your mind—and your character—take you where it will. Leave the editing for later. Oh, and password protects your laptop.
- “You’re not so bad yourself.” The importance of witty banter. We all know that dialogue can make or break a novel. This is doubly true with rom-com. The sparking back-and-forth is essential to a successful romantic comedy. This is where the meat is … the juicy piece readers grab onto and laugh out loud over. It’s also where the reader falls in love (as do your characters). Good dialogue usually involves some conflict that needs resolving and what better way to stir the conflict than injecting it with humor? Carefully craft your banter and you’ll have the sexual tension crackling in no time. This is also an excellent way to make the characters real and relatable. Use the dialogue to let the characters tell the reader about themselves. Even internal dialogue is useful and fun.
- Humor is a perfect equalizer. Nobody is drawn to a character they don’t like or relate to in some way. Humor will humanize your characters—say that ten times fast! That’s also why flawed characters make the best romantic comedy leads. Flaws are not only human but lend themselves to hilarity. When the female lead finds herself performing awful karaoke in front of the male lead, the reader laughs at the awkwardness and is forced to imagine herself/himself in that very position. Why? Because the situation is not only plausible, but it’s fraught with familiar emotions. As an author, you’ve just connected your reader and your main character.
- A half-barrel of laughs. Leave the other half for the rest of the feels. Sure, we need laughs, but we also need real emotions—even (gasp) sadness. A balance makes the novel pop and makes the laughs all the more rewarding while keeping the story itself believable. Whether your novel is a sweet rom-com or something more intese, don’t be afraid to give it depth. Humor and intensity are not mutually exclusive. (I could write an entire article on composing sex scenes that are equal parts hot and humorous!) A reviewer once said, “I laughed, I cried then I laughed again and fell in love not once but several times.”* That’s when I knew I’d nailed it. Not sure how to begin the balance when things are getting heavy? Secondary characters are great for lending levity to more serious emotions and situations.
- OMG, that scene! Every romantic comedy needs that one scene that just skirts the line of outrageous. It’s the scene readers will tell their friends about or will reference when reviewing your book. It’s the restaurant orgasm scene from When Harry Met Sally (for those of you saying, “What’s that?” just picture Vince Vaughn in any rom-com he’s ever been in and you get the gist). But I guarantee part of the charm of these scenes is the romantic chemistry between the characters. I can’t tell you how many readers have told me they practically peed their pants while reading the “Fiona and her lady parts” scene in The Spark. This is what every romantic comedy author wants to hear. It’s what we strive for. Just don’t send us the dry-cleaning bill.
Award-winning author Sylvie Stewart is addicted to Romantic Comedy and Contemporary Romance, and she’s not looking for a cure. She hails from the great state of North Carolina, so it’s no surprise that her books are all set in the Tar Heel state. She’s a wife to a hilarious dude and mommy to nine-year-old twin boys who tend to take after their father in every way. Sylvie often wonders if they’re actually hers, but then she remembers being a human incubator for a gazillion months. Ah, good times.
Sylvie began publishing when her kids started elementary school, and she loves sharing her stories with readers and hopefully making them laugh and swoon a bit along the way. If she’s not in her comfy green writing chair, she’s probably camping or kayaking with her family or having a glass of wine while binge-watching Hulu. Or she’s been kidnapped—so what are you doing just sitting there?!!
**Winner of the National Indie Excellence Award for Romantic Comedy and the Readers’ Favorite Silver Medal for Romantic Comedy**
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