Romance films, romantic comedies and romantic subplots have been staples on our film and TV screens since the dawn of cinema and television. We love them. And our appetite for them shows no signs of slowing down.
As is the case in all film genres, love stories have their own set of conventions which audiences expect. If they buck these screenwriting conventions, you will lose your audience because their expectations were not met.
Convention is a broader term than genre rules. They tend to have a broader setting, story context and a minimum of two love interests, rather than a step by step guide to writing a romance screenplay.
Let’s examine some of the conventions for story telling:
Two Love Interests (Minimum)
Traditional romance films are centered around two people who fall in love by the end of the film. Traditionally, the said love interests are one man and one woman; one boy and one girl. They need to stand a reasonable and believable chance of being pair-bonded at the end of your film script.
One man and one girl or one woman and one boy love stories fall outside the traditional constructs of romance movies. Their function is more to question and provoke social attitudes to love.
Why stop at two love interests? You don’t have to. Two is just a suggested number. The film THREESOME did just that. I’m unsure if society was ready for it, but I’ll keep an open mind. Can’t wait for how a film about throuples turns out, especially the wedding scenes in the third act.
The majority of screenplays are heterosexual love stories and revolve around a male and a female. They often include the chivalrous male performing incredible courting feats to win the love of his fair maiden who initially rejects his advances.
It is traditionally the man that asks the woman out to the dance. This convention can be expressed in a variety of ways. This is where screenwriters can flex their writing muscles.
Having the female chase the male bucks the established convention. Again, changing social values may allow for it, but this isn’t yet mainstream storytelling. After all, how many men batter an eyelid when a woman asks them out for a drink in today’s society?
The evolution of social attitudes, the removal of taboos, now allow same-sex couples to fall in love on our screens. My previous point about who chases who is really tested here. Is there a “male” and “female” equivalent in same sex relationships? The cinema going audience will be the ultimate judge that question.
We have transgender, cisgender (assigned birth gender) and non-gender conforming romance films and TV shows to look forward to in terms what gender baseline they establish.
Rather than focusing exclusively on gender conventions, it might be worth examining male and female characteristics in your screenwriting. Who is the breadwinner, the protector, the caregiver, the homemaker, the nurturer? These answers give rise to exciting romance stories while respecting the parameters of the romance genre convention.
They Must Be Kept Apart
Love interest 1 meets love interest 2. They get married and live contentedly ever after. Best romance movie ever made? Hmm. It may the shortest movie ever made.
This is partially the issue. However, engaging screenwriting involves an emotional resonance to your audience. The love interests must be kept apart until the end of the film to prove they have truly earned their love. They must deserve to be together as couple. Otherwise they are little more than a tinder swipe. friends with benefits or hook up. The audience in turn, will experience vicariously experience the same love.
The obstacles that keep them apart should confirm their love is real and they really want to be together as a couple. This testing process is vital in establishing the validity and authenticity of their love.
Delayed gratification is part of human nature. The harder we work for something and make personal sacrifices for it, the higher the rewards when we achieve it.
What are the circumstances that keep the fated loves apart and what are the ones that ultimately bring them together?
Negative circumstances include physical separation, disapproval from family and friends, distance, illness and the lovers’ worldview.
The positive circumstances to bring them together could be serendipitous or through struggle. Either way, it cannot be a co-incidence. They must have undertaken an deep emotional journey and deserve to be together.
Whoever said the road to romance is rocky, sure knew what they were talking about. One of the conventions of romantic comedies and films about love, is the introduction of characters that don’t want the fated lover interests to be together.
The most common one is a LOVE RIVAL(S). The third wheel who believes they are more worthy of love. Rivals are important to explore the practicality of love and relationships. Can the rival provide an adequate financial, emotional and social foundation to the relationship? If they do so at a higher level, but the love interest doesn’t love them, they have a dilemma. Will they marry for love or money?
Alternatively, the rival could be a penniless artist who can offer nothing other than love. This rival tests the purity of love.
The other type of obstacle character is the OPPOSER. These characters believe they know what’s best and have deemed that the union should not proceed for various reasons. Some opposers actively pursue to destroy the relationship before it’s formed.
These are secrets that the love interests keep from each other or others keep from them. Eventually the secrets are unveiled towards the end of the film. They are the final test of a relationship.
This is an essential component of romance movies. These intimate rituals are vital for romance to develop. What do your characters do that’s special and exclusive to them? Wear matching sweaters, order drinks for each other, send each other coded text messages? This is when our love interests bond.
May you all fall in love.