A to Z Challenge 2014 · How to write Romantic Comedy · Romcom Alphabet Soup

Banter, the Romcom love engine


An ongoing series about how to write romantic comedy.

Banter is an absolute essential. It’s what we love best about romantic comedy. Because people fall in love through talking, not by staring at one another and thinking lustful thoughts. (At its worst, that’s creepy and stalkerish. At its best, it’s so, well…middle school.) On the other hand, what could be better than delicious verbal sparring?

You say B should stand for bedroom scenes? Nope. Not even close. Love is a meeting of the minds, that kindred spirit connection that makes intimacy possible. And it’s watching the connection form that keeps us turning pages. Maybe it’s just me, but I value quick intelligence and a shared smile way more than a hot body.

Here’s the thing about banter: it’s all about “show don’t tell.” Using banter you, the writer, must cause the reader to fall in love with the hero. Describing him as handsome or successful or intelligent won’t cut it. The reader must see him in action—saying intelligent things, behaving adorably—and make the leap herself.

To save time (and avoid plagiarism), I’ve lifted an exchange from one of my books. The dialog, his thoughts, and her aloof responses dovetail, drawing the reader in. At this point in the story she is rather a piece of work, but then so is he. Here, I want the reader to decide, is a well-matched pair.


The temptation to tease her was overwhelming. He lowered his napkin and gave her one of his most charming smiles.

She looked away. “Will this rain never stop?”

McGillvary nearly laughed outright. Obviously, flirting with a clerk was taboo! When she looked his way, he poured the last of his tea into the saucer to cool. This was clearly outrageous; his mother would have boxed his ears! As it was, he had to bite his lip to keep from laughing at the expression in Miss Elliot’s eyes. He lifted the saucer and took a long, gleeful draught.

Replacing it, he remarked, “A nice brew, but I prefer coffee. As you can see,” he indicated his waistcoat, “we had a little mishap with the coffee pot.”

“Do you mean today?” she said.

He stiffened. Did she think he would wear a stained waistcoat all week? He decided to retaliate. “By the bye, I am sorry about your hat. Is there a way it can be repaired?”

At that, her chin came up. “I rather doubt it,” she said. “But if it rains in Bath as much as you say, what is the point?” She coughed politely. “Have you lived in Bath long, Mr Gill?”

“My family owns a house here, but I have been abroad for much of my life.”

“Of course. Your time at sea. I forgot.” The look she gave him told him plainly what she thought: that he had been transported to Australia on a convict ship—and was only newly returned to England!


Thrust and parry, attack and counterattack. But remember, this is sparring and not meanness. With words alone, using banter, the writer builds intrigue between the pair, revealing humor and intelligence and wit. And eventually, loneliness and need.

Tomorrow’s topic? Dreadful in real life, yet wonderful in fiction, the Cat Fight.

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[excerpt from Mercy’s Embrace: So Rough a Course by Laura Hile, 2009]

17 thoughts on “Banter, the Romcom love engine

  1. Visiting from A to Z ~
    While I’m not about to start writing Romcom, I find your theme and today’s post very interesting. I read a book recently whose author could have benefited from your instruction.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Wendy. About your comment, sadly, I read a lot of books like that. This genre only looks easy. I guess that goes for any type of fiction writing.

      Good luck with A to Z. I’m meeting so many new bloggers! πŸ™‚


  2. Loved it, Laura. I value intelligence, wit, and humor very highly, too. I’ve dated a few extremely handsome men, but talking to them usually made me want to pull my brains out of my ears and offer them a share. I remember watching some of those guys drinking downtown on the weekends. I was thinking, “Why are you destroying brain cells? You don’t have any to spare!”

    When I was a teenager, I accepted some dates because of the way the guy looked, but those were very short relationships. My daughters went through the same thing. The first time one of my daughters made a witty comment, pun, or literary allusion, and the guy’s late laugh showed he didn’t really get it, I knew he was toast.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There’s nothing so telling (and so disappointing) as the late laugh.

      Good for your girls—and for you! —for not settling for less. The struggle to protect a husband (or wife) from one’s own intelligence is wearisome, and it doesn’t go away. I tell my sons and my students: “Choose wisely. Be willing to wait for the best. ‘Until death do ye part’ is longer than you think.”


  3. Good old Paddy. His banter would be worth waiting for. Sometimes. And good for you showing that while he’s got a handle on the banter, he also has to hold his tongue to pull off the farce. Inner struggle is good for the reader.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Vicki. I think there are many of us who feel this way. If women were picky about physical features in their men, how long would it take for the human race to die out? Ha, one generation? Smart is much better than handsome. And doesn’t a likable personality transform the appearance?


        1. I hammer this concept home with my senior guys, sharing this quotation:

          “Choose a wife rather by your ear than your eye.” (Thomas Fuller)

          Here’s hoping they do.


          1. I hope so, too, but unfortunately, men (by and large) seem to be very visual creatures. They miss the obvious. The intellect will last longer than the looks will.

            Liked by 1 person

    1. Like this is a surprise from a gal whose B post was about the virtues of Blarney? πŸ™‚

      Yes, blarney in the hands of a decent man is adorable Irish charm. When used by a jerk, not so much.

      I’m glad you’re enjoying this topic. We’ll see how soon it is before I run out of ideas …


    1. Thanks for the kind words, Natasha. I don’t know if my choice of topic is clever, or simply desperate. We’ll see if I run out of ideas! πŸ™‚ But because I’ve had to put my thoughts into words,I find I’m learning, (or else relearning) quite a lot.


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