Catherine Bennetto was a student on our first ever online novel-writing course in autumn 2013, and after the course she gained representation from CB’s Alice Lutyens. Her debut novel How Not to Fall in Love, Actually was published as an e-book and then in paperback (S&S), and took a fresh, laugh-out-loud look at contemporary romance. Her second novel, Make Or Break, is out in paperback now (S&S), and promises to be equally hilarious and heart-warming. Here Catherine shares 6 pieces of invaluable advice when it comes to writing contemporary romantic comedy.
First of all, who is the modern reader? The answer is one of such broad scope we could debate for hours. So let’s not and I’ll tell you who my modern reader is.
When I write, I have my friend Katie in mind. Katie is vastly more intelligent than me. She is a top-of-her-game lawyer with a team of littler lawyers under her. She works for an international giant foodstuffs company, spending many weeks abroad. Katie has three gorgeous daughters, all of primary school age, and her husband, a trained accountant, is their full-time, stay-at-home parent. Katie went back to work after each daughter was three months old. Because international foodstuff giants needed her. Her husband is a wonderful father and they, together, are a brilliant parenting team. Katie adores her family, loves her job, finds time for her friends, is a fair and firm boss, doesn’t suffer idiots or anyone who treats anyone unfairly, and has a wit so sharp I can barely keep up. I write to keep Katie interested. Because Katie’s time is precious and she’s ruthless with how she spends it. Katie is the modern reader.
- Be original with romance. Romance isn’t just bunches of flowers, being taken out for dinner to a candle-lit restaurant or surprise mini breaks to Paris. Yawn. Of course, if my husband did manage to wangle a surprise mini break to Paris I would be elated. But I don’t want to read about it because it’s been done. Find your romance in unexpected places.
- Comedy is a personal thing. What has me in stitches has my Buddhist neighbour horrified. The jokes my brother-in-law says are so very bad they’re awesome. In my mind. In many, many other’s they are just very bad. One person’s funny is another’s insult to their faith, their morals, their ambitions, their décor. So, my only advice is to write what you think is funny.
- Try not to make a relationship the ultimate goal for your characters. Romantic love is universally sought, we all crave it (except sociopaths – and one of my friends who truly prefers cats and Star Wars), and with a romantic comedy we expect the guy or girl to get the guy or girl in the end. So make your characters have other goals and frustrations. Because once you’ve got the guy or the girl then what? Do the credits roll on your life? No they do not. Katie would be horrified if the main characters ultimate ambition was to have a boyfriend or girlfriend. Who is that out of date loser? I can’t relate to her. No, Katie and I believe a loving relationship is a wonderful bonus to an already goal packed life.
- Avoid clichés like the plague. (Hahahaha! Oh, I crack myself up.) But seriously, do avoid them. A romantic comedy is already going to be predictable. It will have a happy ending and the reader knows this because that is why they picked it up. So be inventive with everything else.
- Keep communication between characters up to date. We no longer pop next door to have a cuppa and gossip about the hot new gardener employed to rejuvenate the grounds of the crumbling old country estate on the hill, who slopes around like he’s got a dark secret that can only be unlocked by the love of a good woman. No. We text our conversations, we emoji our feelings, we whatsapp our families, and we facetime our children because we work overseas. There is a lot of scope for miscommunication and confusion in the digital age of intermingling. Use it!
- Don’t waffle. Imagine Katie is reading your book. Does she have the time to read your detailed description of the interior of every room in the love interest’s masculine flat or a three-page, angst-ridden analysis of a phone call? No, she has lamb chops to cook, bath mats to hang, emails to reply to, and twenty-three minutes to read in bed before she falls asleep and her kindle drops to the floor. The modern reader is time poor. Get to the point.
Get Make Or Break here.
If you’re interested in taking one of our selective entry novel-writing courses like Catherine did applications are currently open for our 6-Month Novel-Writing Course in London with Simon Wroe. (Deadline: Sunday July 15th at midnight)
Applications are also open for one fully-funded scholarship place on our 6-Month Online Novel-Writing Course with Lisa O’Donnell for a writer of limited financial means.