An ongoing series about how to write romantic comedy.
Like so many of the Romcom story ingredients, jealousy should be used as a spice. In other words, sparingly. Think habanero peppers here. Too much heat becomes distasteful, not to mention way too obvious.
And you don’t want your plot devices to be obvious. That is to say, the same old retread of what has been done before. Besides, how many times is flat-out jealousy seen in real life? Like, totally on middle school campuses, right? Use open jealousy to build up to a comical cat fight or some other petty conflict, but not with your lead characters.
Because among adults jealousy is much more subtle. Foiled ambition, loused-up expectations, personal insecurities and rivalries—these are jealousy’s more realistic manifestations.
If your hero engages in behavior that makes the heroine jealous, what does this say about him? And about you as a writer? If your story smacks of melodrama, especially with your leading couple, you’ll lose the reader’s heart interest. Same thing if your hero behaves like a jerk. Within a single book it’s hard to redeem stupid.
One final observation about the writer and jealousy. Focus on your own work, not on that of other (more successful) Romcom writers! Comparison can be fatal. Either you will become way too confident as a writer, or you’ll sink into despair. And how do I know this, you ask? Experience is a painful teacher.
Here’s today’s excerpt, which involves secondary characters. Mary, who is a selfish piece of work (and therefore semi-comical) has been provoked by her good-natured husband’s behavior and has shut herself in her bedchamber. Anne, her sister, confronts him.
Again Anne gave him a look. She sat down on the sofa and said, “Mrs Barrymore was struck by how well you got on with Miss Owen.”
Charles eased onto the edge of a nearby chair. “What’s wrong in that?”
“And when she came to call on us,” continued Anne, “she mentioned it to Mary.”
Charles was by now thoroughly lost. “She mentioned that I get on will with Miss Owen?” he said. “What does that have to do with anything?”
“It has everything to do with it!” Anne flared. “How can you be so unfeeling?”
“Anne,” Charles said evenly, “if being helpful to Miss Owen was enough to send Mary into a fit, she’s in worse shape than I knew. She’s prostrated, I take it?”
“Perhaps she has reason to be!” cried Anne. “Honestly, Charles, how can you be so obtuse?”
“Obtuse? About what?”
Anne’s dark eyes were bright. “Mrs Barrymore did not know that you were Mary’s husband! Mrs Barrymore told us, in Mary’s presence, that she thought it wouldn’t be long until Miss Owen followed her to the altar! The man she paired Miss Owen with was you! ‘That nice man, Charles,’ is what she said!”
He rolled his eyes. “Oh lord, is that all? And naturally Mary believed her.”
“Of course she did!”
“What a pack of nonsense! Did she have hysterics and cause a scene?” Charles did not bother to hide his disgust.
Anne’s lips stitched together. “Mary thinks you’re in love with Miss Owen, Charles.”
“I am kind to a female, and straightway Mary thinks I’m in love? That’s rich!”
“I do not share your amusement.” Anne’s voice was cold. “And for your information, Mary did not have hysterics. She behaved with perfect propriety while Mrs Barrymore was here. It was not until after Mrs Barrymore left that she…”
“I see,” Charles said. “And did she send you to watch for me? To confront me with this accusation? Very pretty.”
“No, she did not. I thought it best to warn you.”
“Do you know,” he said, “I am sick to death of warnings. I tiptoe round so as not to offend or upset her—and a fat lot of good it does me!”
Anne’s face paled. “Charles, please.”
“A fat lot of good it does!” he went on. “Because in the end, we still have it out! She tells me that I am the worst beast in nature and kicks up a dust. As a matter of fact,” he continued angrily, “we might as well have it out now!”
Anne jumped to her feet. “No!” she cried. She made a lunge for his arm, but he was too quick for her. He strode to the drawing room door and flung it open.
Anne followed. “Charles, no!” she cried. “Mary is in no state to be ranted at!”
He took the stairs two at a time; Anne struggled to keep up. “If my wife thinks I’m in love with another woman,” he flung over his shoulder, “she can jolly well tell me to my face!”
At the landing Anne caught up with him. She grasped the sleeve of his coat with both hands and held on. “Charles!” she demanded. “Are you?”
He looked down at her.
There was desperation in Anne’s eyes. “Are you in love with Miss Owen?”
Charles opened his mouth to reply, but no words came.
Anne’s hold on his arm tightened. “Charles!” she cried. “Answer the question!”
Up tomorrow for K is Kissing and Romcom intimacy. Oh, yes.
[excerpt from Mercy’s Embrace: The Lady Must Decide by Laura Hile, 2010]