Wednesday, March 27, 2013

What's Wrong with Romantic Comedies?

The Day of Getting Stuff Done actually ended up working. I just have one remaining nagging to-do item, and then I'll have a weight off my shoulders. And new to-do items. Ugh. One big accomplishment was that I sorted through most of my spiral notebooks. Spiral notebooks are kind of my Swiss Army Knife business tool. Instead of shelling out a lot of money for fancy planners, I have calendar pages I printed from Outlook stuck in a sheet protector and a spiral notebook for planning and to-do lists. I have books for various topics, like marketing efforts and my convention work. I use these books for taking notes on library books. I also use them for collecting information on each book project -- research notes, plot outlines, character information, and anything else I might want to reference for a book. They're portable and they keep information together. I've started using loose-leaf paper for brainstorming because I generally don't need to reference that stuff again and I was filling up too many notebooks with things I didn't need to keep. I also sometimes use a big binder and loose-leaf paper for really complicated projects, like my steampunk book. The trick is that it's hard to find the right notebook when I need it in a pile of notebooks. So, I went through the stack, tossed (or if there was a lot of paper left, ripped out used pages) the notebooks I wouldn't need again -- old to-do lists, thoroughly dead projects -- stuck labels on the front of books I was keeping and put hang-tag labels on the spirals, and then put them in magazine holders based on category -- general research, old books, future books, and old ideas I may return to. I was surprised by the number of books I had on detailed ideas that I don't even remember having. Most of the "dead" book ideas were for chick lit, so unless something in them really sparked a "there's still something here" reaction, they got tossed.

On an unrelated note (unless you count the mention of chick lit), there was an interesting essay in this Sunday's newspaper about the decline of the romantic comedy film genre. One little hint about Book 7 is that a lot of the book is a spoof of romantic comedy films. You may recall that last summer I was talking a lot about romantic comedies, and this is why. I watched a lot of them, both good and bad, as I was making lists of tropes and cliches to use. So, I figured that in the lead-up to the release of this book, it's a good time to focus on romantic comedies, and I looked for the essay online. I found that there were also two more parts, part two and and part three. And then I followed a link to find that Billy Mernit, who wrote my favorite book about writing romantic comedies, had written his own response to the original essay. As a bonus, that led me to his blog, which I must now follow.

To sum up the general argument from the initial essay, he was pointing out that one problem is that the great stars, the equivalent of people like Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant, aren't making romantic comedies these days, but that may be because the scripts are pretty lousy, so high-powered stars don't want to do them. And the scripts may be lousy because there aren't too many "easy" obstacles to love these days -- class differences aren't much of an issue, parental disapproval doesn't matter, race is less of an obstacle, and even marital status doesn't necessarily stop anyone. Sex is something that can happen at the meet-cute, so even if you can't officially formalize your love, there's nothing to stop you from going at it before you work things out. In the follow-up, he points out that this doesn't mean there are no conflicts left, just that they're a lot more difficult and require a lot more nuance in the writing. Another theory he presents fits with what I've been saying for ages, which is that the moviemakers became too cynical about the genre and the audience -- they thought that these were easy money-makers aimed at an audience that would eat up anything thrown at them, so they just slapped together some contrived conflict, stuck in some pop music montages and called it a day, and then when these movies tanked, they threw up their hands and called the genre dead.

The fact that there are still about a zillion romance novels being published every year shows that there's no shortage of romantic conflicts. True, there's probably very, very little that's never been done before, but a good writer can make it work and feel fresh if the characters are interesting and well-drawn. You're not going to get that in a movie if you're banking on the audience liking the actors rather than relating to the characters or if you're letting a pop song tell us about the characters being in love rather than actually developing a relationship.

Over the next month or so, leading up to the Kiss and Spell release, I'll be doing a series of posts (probably the Wednesdays when I'm not doing writing posts) about the romantic comedy genre, with maybe some teasers about the book thrown in. I'll say up front that my use of romantic comedy in this book is meant to be cliched -- that's the point. But I hope it ends up transcending the cliche because you do care about the characters and their situation. 

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