Coffee Break 6 and the Rules of Rom Com
OK, I admit it, I have hit The Wall. No more words this week. I have my excuses: cold, cough, ladders being delivered at all hours, brand new Orange SPV M3100 to play with (God I am terrified of dropping it), 40 scripts marked, boyf leaving his job, doubts about what to do with this particular project, toothache...but to be fair I am also approaching that mid-point slump which I always get with a book.
I may not have extra words but I do have about a dozen handwritten pages of scrawl, asterisks, block capitals and other ideas following the rather excellent Script Factory course on the Rom Com genre I attended a week ago today. Screen-writers tend to approach work in a much more structure-focused way than novelists, and though certainly the book allows much more flexibility in form, commercial authors in particular have a lot to learn from the screen approach. Apart from anything else, we live in a very visual culture, and the story structures being used by Hollywood and TV drama and even the non-linear structures of video games are increasingly the narratives that consumers are most familiar with, particularly younger readers.
That might sound a bit pompous/academic, but what I think it means is that commercial writers have to understand those structures too - not follow them slavishly, but be aware of the need to keep the pages turning. OK, so many of us do that instinctively, but it never does any harm to be reminded.
The course, hosted by the vivacious Marilyn Milgrom (like a very glam Miss Jean Brodie, strict and passionate), looked at the conventions of Romantic Comedies and its inherent problem as a movie genre: the audience understands the boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-finds-girl-again structure so well - and expects that outcome, most of the time - that a writer has to work hard to keep the tension and the suspense going, to make it believable that the boy and girl (or boy/boy, or girl/girl) might NOT end up together, and most important, to make us care whether they do or not.
We had a lot of fun on the day, discussing movies and stories and brainstorming ideas. There was good food, too, and interestingly an equal number of men and women. I've done the Robert McKee course, but this worked far better for me: more interaction (as opposed to none in Story!), specific to the world I write for, and light airy room - environment makes an enormous difference. Afterwards I also raced to amazon to buy Writing the Romantic Comedy by Billy Mernit, which was the basis for some of the ideas Marilyn was explaining, and was so excited I even went for First Class Postage rather than SuperSaver!
The book is terrific, really straightforward but written in a lively style, with good movie analysis that makes you want to race out and watch the DVDs again. It also has great check-lists for each element: character, plot, theme.
The author, Billy Mernit, also has a fascinating blog. Really worth a good old surf around.
Is his book the ultimate blueprint for novelists who write about love? Not exactly, but then it doesn't set out to be. It's excellent food for thought, but the beauty of novels is that you can break the rules and - hopefully - retain readers, in a way that movie test audiences won't let you. One bad vote from them and your film goes back to the edit...
Now there's a thought. Test audiences for fiction works-in-progress. I guess it happens already on the web to some extent, but imagine if your finished draft went out to 100 readers and then came back 'it's good but can you change the ending?'
So what's everyone else been up to? Next stop, choosing a new word meter.