An ongoing series about how to write romantic comedy.
Admit it. We love this stuff. Fictional arguments are absorbing—not to mention more fun—because we watch from the safety of the sidelines. In Romcom they’re usually “Girl Wars,” and they don’t involve us. Thus we devour every word.
Understand that the Cat Fight is just as much a fantasy element as anything. And when done right, it’s entertainment. How delicious to see the heroine answer her attacker, not as we would, but with cleverness and wit. She’s angry, but she keeps her head. She’s not struck speechless.
You can also show quite a bit about your characters simply by how they argue. Has one of them grown and changed? An intelligent reader will hone in on this.
Here, I’ll show you. Elizabeth, the arrogant elder sister is arguing with Mary, the selfish pig youngest sister. (I know, what a pair, right?) In the context of the series, Elizabeth has suffered setbacks and is slowly becoming more human. But not Mary! But I don’t need to tell the reader this. That’s what the argument is for.
Mary gave an unhappy sniff. “As for that service today, why, it was beyond anything!”
“Were you attending to any of it? I thought you talked with our cousin the entire time.”
“Bless me, no. It was Estella who talked to me, which is a very different thing. But honestly, how could that dreadful Mr Jay say so much about such a dreary text? Who wants to hear a sermon about the owner of a hostelry?”
It was all Elizabeth could do not to roll her eyes. Did her sister have rocks for brains? “It was the story of the Pharisee and the publican, Mary,” she said wearily. “A publican is a Roman tax collector, not the owner of a public house. And I thought the sermon was rather good.”
Mary gave a snort of derision. “You may think ‘God be merciful to me, a sinner’ is interesting, but I do not!”
“Actually,” said Elizabeth, “it was the bit about the other man—the self-righteous one who boasted of his good deeds and prayed to himself. I have never thought about it that way.”
“Indeed?” Mary examined the button on one of her gloves. “Tell me, sister-dear, how do you like being called a sinner? Do you beat your breast when you pray, like that horrid publican did?”
“Perhaps I should.”
“Well, I have no intention of doing so, ever,” said Mary. “And I do not like being called a sinner, for I am no such thing!”
Elizabeth nearly laughed. “What a liar you are, Mary!” she said, smiling.
Mary straightened her bonnet. “I do not steal, nor have I murdered,” she said primly. “Neither do I take the Lord’s name in vain or—”
“Or lie or gossip or covet,” Elizabeth finished. “You are a pattern-card of virtue, in fact. Please.”
By this time they were pulling up at The Citadel. Mary drew her wrap more closely around her shoulders and announced, “I do not feel at all well.”
Tomorrow we’ll take up another Romcom must-have: Disguise.
Thanks so much for coming by.
[excerpt from Mercy’s Embrace: So Lively a Chase by Laura Hile, 2009]