In my previous two posts, I looked at the 7 beats of a rom com in screen writing terms, as defined by Billy Mernit, and how they can translate to books too. The final one is the resolution or, in Mernit’s lovely phrase, Joyful Defeat.
I find this breaks down into two main parts. The first step here is the Aha moment where the main character realizes how they really feel and who they really love. If we were being fancy (or just giving rom-coms their proper due?) we could say that this is what Aristotle calls the anagnorisis; the moment of truth. We can also call it the Blinding Realisation moment. For Harry (in When Harry Met Sally), it’s the realisation that, ‘When you want to spend the rest of your life with someone, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.’ Possibly one of the greatest rom com lines of all time?
Although this is an interior step, it’s mostly brought on by an outer event. Jealousy is a classic motivator: in Jane Austen’s Emma, the news that her friend Harriet is after Mr Knightley is what supplies the insight:
Her own conduct, as well as her own heart, was before her in the same few minutes. She saw it all with a clearness which had never blessed her before.
Note the visual reference here: Austen describes Emma’s insight as, literally, seeing something. Though it’s an interior step, you need an exterior sign too: a bit of overt symbolism never hurts here. In Clueless, they camp this up really nicely with Cher standing in front of a fountain that’s suddenly illuminated as the music reaches a climax. In Love and Other Man-Made Disasters I use a concrete symbol (a Zombie Apocalypse Survival Kit) to show Juno exactly what Boy means to her, and just as importantly what she means to him.
Once the hero or heroine has had that realization, what then? Typically it will seem like it’s too late to win the beloved – but because those feelings are so strong, you have at least try. So the second step, once you’ve had your Blinding Realization, is what screenwriters call Storming the Castle. This is something we commonly see in action/sci fi; the hero(ine) gathers together all his/her weapons and allies for a final effort at defeating the enemy.
Rom coms do this too. But instead of throwing grappling hooks onto a castle wall, the hero(ine) might rush to the airport (bit of a cliché, this one), or crash into a wedding venue and make a heartfelt speech. In Love and Other Man-Made Disasters, Juno gathers her friends together and borrows a jeep with snow chains to make it to see Boy before she leaves. You want that effort and struggle to be represented with action.
Often, you’ll have an audience for at least part of this. This is fun because it makes it extra embarrassing for the main players. But the audience isn’t just there for laughs. They’re there, I think, for a pretty ancient, primitive reason which is that in every romantic comedy, from Shakespeare onwards, a romance is as much about the community as it is about as the couple. Just as the community witnesses a wedding, it’s a powerful thing to have them there to witness the final resolution.
Whatever form your final resolution takes, the characters will need to heal misunderstandings, which will involve probably explanations on both sides. Ideally, the person who’s been most in the wrong will do some groveling – and some explaining.
This is often our opportunity to hear the story from the love interest’s point of view – where the hero, say, explains why he acted a certain way. I think of this scene as being like the one where the detective explains how the crime was committed, or the villain boasts about how they did it. That’s why I find it useful to write the love story from the love interest’s point of view – so that you know exactly what’s been going in in their head, even while it’s been baffling to the heroine.
And that’s pretty much it. Except for one thing. In a good rom com, the heroine’s journey isn’t just about meeting a man – it’s about becoming the person she wants to be. This step requires an extra beat – which is why I make it eight beats, not seven. But that can be a post for another day …