Truby celebrates Romantic Comedies, part one: Musicals

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John Truby is regarded as the serious writer’s story coach and has taught his 22-Step Great Screenwriting and Genre courses to sold-out audiences.   Truby continues to serve as a story consultant to the major studios, including Sony Pictures, HBO, and Disney Studios.  Truby‘s best-selling book The Anatomy of Story newly out in paperback, has received glowing reviews and is used as a textbook at film schools across the country.

In honor of this weekend’s opening for Jennifer Aniston and Jason Bateman ‘s The Switch, today John Truby reviews the romantic comedy Music & Lyrics in two parts (link to the second part is at the bottom).  Music and Lyrics stars Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore and written by Marc Lawrence.

And here is part 1…

Music and Lyrics is an average romantic comedy. But compared to other recent films in the genre, it sparkles like a diamond. And, it has a few techniques that are instructive. Romantic comedy is extremely deceptive; it looks light and easy, but is incredibly hard. Part of the problem comes from the fact that the form is highly choreographed, with about 12 unique story beats the writer must hit to satisfy the audience. By the same token, the form is very contrived, so expressing real feeling – and a love story better have real feeling – is a big challenge.

The romantic comedy form has fallen on hard times recently. But it continues to be one of Hollywood’s most popular forms, and if you can write a good one, your script will be very popular as well. I go into extensive detail about how to write a good romantic comedy in both my Comedy and Love Story classes. But let’s focus here on a few of the techniques that Music and Lyrics does well.

Music and Lyrics is, first and foremost, based on a premise that gives the story a huge structural advantage. By doing a romantic comedy between two songwriters, writer Marc Lawrence gets the benefits of a musical without dealing with the inherent structural nightmares that the musical form brings. The lead characters can use music to express emotion more intensely, but Lawrence doesn’t have to deal with the awkward, reality-blowing fact of people bursting into song.

What about some specific techniques? The first is what I call the “love endpoint.” This is a technique I explain in the Great Screenwriting and Love Story Classes. To make the characters develop the way you want, and to make sure the plot comes from the characters, you have to start at the structural endpoint of your story and work backwards. There are many structural elements that determine this endpoint, and it has nothing to do with the actual plot beat that ends the story. In love stories the endpoint is not the love between the two people but rather proper love. In other words, the love of two people who have grown. That means beginning your story by establishing two people who have weaknesses, and these weaknesses are so severe that the two characters are closed down and experiencing a miserable life.

This is a 2-part Truby Screenwriting review: part 2

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