An ongoing series about how to write romantic comedy.
Embarrassment, like sensuality, should be used sparingly. That means you need a light touch when it comes to whatever humiliation your lead character faces.
If you’ve done your job right, your reader already identifies with your heroine. Not only rooting for her, but sharing her feelings and more. If you will, the reader becomes the heroine. This is what keeps pages turning.
But there’s a fine line between amused identification and embarrassment. And as a writer, you teeter on the tightrope here. Embarrass the heroine too much, and the reader begins to squirm—I know I do. When that happens, it’s dangerous. The reader is pulled out of the story, and believe me, you don’t want this to happen. For when your book gets set aside and closed, it could be forever.
So your comic touch must be light and human. Your reader should smile, not grimace. Please, allow your heroine to retain a shred of dignity. This means don’t completely humiliate the poor girl. Cheap laughs just aren’t worth it.
Because romantic comedy is not slapstick, but a joyous romp. Do we really want to see the fat man fall down and go boom? (Well, okay, maybe if he’s the villain.) But seriously, no. We’d so much rather see something more subtle, more clever and unexpected, more honestly fun. And it’s your job as a writer to keep things that way.
Here, I’ll show you how this works. Elizabeth has fled the library and now discovers that her hiding place is anything but deserted. Read along and share her dismay over—and intense interest in—the man she claims to despise.
“I’ve a guest waiting in the library, Pym,” came the reply. “Which reminds me. Ring for Wilson.”
Elizabeth could only hope that Pym’s limping step would be loud enough to conceal the pounding of her heart. She now knew exactly where she was—she was in his bedchamber!
Summoning her courage, she parted the folds of the bed skirt and looked out. Directly in her line of vision were the heels of two stocking-clad feet—Admiral McGilvary’s! She scooted closer for a better look. Above the tops of the stockings were his bare legs! Elizabeth stifled a gasp and squeezed her eyes shut. Immediately she opened them again for another look. The long tails of his shirt covered his backside. What if he removed the shirt?
To her horror, he turned and walked toward the bed. Elizabeth covered her mouth with her hands. She must not make a sound! Admiral McGillvary sat down, and the bed slats gave a wheezing creak. He was directly above! Was he putting on the clean trousers? Elizabeth tried not to think about it.
And then she heard the door open and more footsteps. “Here, sir,” called Pym’s voice, “let me give you a hand with that.”
“I can manage to tuck in my own shirt, Pym,” Admiral McGillvary grumbled. “Wilson, how is Miss Elliot faring?”
“Very well, sir,” said the butler’s voice. “At present she is enjoying tea and sandwiches.”
“You gave her my message? Was there a reply?”
There was a pause. “Nothing?”
“Not a word, sir.”
Elizabeth could hear the Admiral frowning. “Odd,” he said. “She had plenty to say earlier. Inform her that I’ll be with her presently.”
Elizabeth squirmed. The only good thing about being hidden was that Admiral McGillvary could not see her blush. What would he say when he discovered that she was not in the library?
Of course there is lots more in this scene, but nothing truly uncomfortable. Elizabeth listens, she peeks at him again, and when the bedchamber is empty, she escapes unnoticed. She’s badly shaken, but her dignity is intact. And the reader has discovered that she is not at all indifferent to McGillvary.
In Monday’s post I’ll discuss my Romcom Fs: Farce, Fun, and Faith. Thanks for reading!
[excerpt from Mercy’s Embrace: The Lady Must Decide by Laura Hile, 2010]