By Sagan Morrow
This originally appeared as an episode on the Indie Author Weekly podcast.
Are you thinking about writing romantic comedy novels? You are in for a treat! Writing romcoms is a wonderful experience… but it’s not necessarily easy. That’s why I’m sharing 3 tips for you when it comes to writing humour into your stories.
When I first started writing my Polyamorous Passions romance series in 2018, I didn’t really know what the subgenre was. I referred to these novels as “contemporary romances” and “new adult romance.” Sometimes it takes a while to hone in on our niche. I didn’t even know that “romantic comedy” was a genre of novels! A year into writing those novels, I happened to be reading a book by an indie author who calls her stories “romantic comedies,” and I realized that my style could totally be considered romantic comedy.
At the same time, I also wasn’t sure if I was funny enough to write romcoms. I mean, I certainly amuse myself, but it’s tricky to know whether your sense of humour is going to be well-received by readers.
And that’s what leads to today’s topic: the trouble with writing romcoms. Because the most challenging part that I’ve found with writing this particular genre is that there’s a delicate balance between writing jokes that are obvious enough that your reader will understand the humour, and also subtle enough that you’re not over-the-top with them.
This gets even more difficult to assess with the more rewrites and edits you do on your own book: you KNOW the joke, since you wrote it… so, trying to take a step back and figure out how it will “land” for your reader is a lot trickier.
For example, here’s a passage I wrote in my latest romcom, Her Bad Idea. For context, Scarlett’s parents are a playwright and a novelist:
The looks on her parent’s faces when Scarlett first informed them she was starting a burlesque dance business could, at best, be described as perplexed.
“Do you think you’re assertive enough to make it work?” her father wanted to know.
“Why would you want to own a burlesque business, of all things?” her mother asked.
“I knew it—millennials are killing the corporate life,” her father lamented.
“You should start a business that’s guaranteed to be lucrative. Something that everyone will respect as a legitimate career path. Become a writer, like I did,” her mother advised.
The first time I wrote a rough draft of that scene, I was giggling as I wrote it. I mean, Scarlett’s dad is sad about “millennials killing the corporate life,” but he’s a playwright. And as a millennial, myself, I’ve always thought that the whole “millennials are killing XYZ” thing is pretty funny. And then her mother’s comment about how writing is a lucrative business that everyone respects as a legitimate career path is rather silly, given the reality of the situation for most authors.
Anyway, I thought it was a funny section when I first wrote it in my book.
BUT: After tweaking that scene several times during rewrites and re-reading it multiple times while editing the book, I started seriously second-guessing myself, by the time I got to the final proofread. I started wondering if maybe it WASN’T obvious what the joke was.
I just had to trust that readers would get that, because readers are smart people, and the joke is pretty plain! But you just never *really* know.
Writing romantic comedies isn’t easy, per se, and this is in part because you are always walking this fine line with your jokes.
Therefore, when you go through multiple drafts of rewrites and edits, you have to be careful not to second-guess yourself with a joke. It’s tricky to balance it out. You need to tinker with it just the right amount so that the humour is emphasized the way you want. That’s how that passage I read to you above got to the point that it’s now at: I ended up expanding on Scarlett’s mom’s last line, to make the joke clearer.
This is also why it was honestly such a relief, to see how many readers specifically mentioned how funny and witty that particular romcom, Her Bad Idea, is. It’s always good to know that your readers resonate with your sense of humour and that the comedic factor landed the way you wanted it to! I really love how much my readers enjoy the humour in my romcoms.
With Her Bad Idea, one reader literally spit out her tea because she was laughing so hard, and many other readers have said that they enjoy the witty banter back and forth between characters. As an author of romantic comedies, that is my goal: for you to laugh and get a kick out of the story and the character dynamics.
By the way—you can read Her Bad Idea for yourself when you grab a copy at SaganMorrow.com/books, or by searching “Polyamorous Passions” on your favourite e-bookstore. Enjoy!
Now that we’ve gone over the main trouble of writing romcoms, I want to share with you a few quick tips for how I do it. So if you are writing humour yourself and you want some help with it, I recommend doing three things:
Tip #1: Don’t worry about making the joke “perfect” when you write it—just get the base idea down.
You can flesh it out later. In fact, don’t try to be funny when you’re writing the first draft. Let yourself write, uncensored, and then while you’re rereading that first draft, you can highlight any scenes that you think can be tightened up to be funnier.
Tip #2: Try writing the scene a few different ways, so you can see what seems to be the funniest angle to take for a particular joke.
This is helpful if you have a vague idea about what you want from a scene, but you’re not sure how to make it more light-hearted: try approaching it from a few different perspectives to see what will capture the mood just right.
Tip #3: During your rewrites and edits, if you start second-guessing yourself, then just tease out the joke a little bit here and there.
For example, in the passage above from Her Bad Idea, as I mentioned earlier, the original line from Scarlett’s mother about the respectable career path was much shorter. It was a much more subtle joke. I expanded on it to really drive the point home, and I also added a reminder in that same scene about what her parent’s careers are, so that it would be fresh in the reader’s mind. That made me feel better, as an author, for ensuring the joke would land.
So, I would say, don’t meddle TOO much with the initial comedic factor… because again, you don’t want to overdo it. But DO tweak it a little bit here and there, or explore other options for driving the point home—again, by mentioning something in relation to the joke earlier in the scene, for example, or maybe by the expression on a character’s face, or the reaction a character has to it, or by incorporating some inner monologue. That’s one of my personal favourite ways to amp up the humour in a story.
Sagan Morrow is a multi-passionate creative and productivity strategist who writes polyamorous romantic comedy novels (including the Polyamorous Passions series). She shares the behind-the-scenes scoop about her writing journey in the Indie Author Weekly podcast.
Drawing on a decade of experience as a freelance writer, Sagan now helps other multi-passionate creatives and solopreneurs save 10+ hours every single week, maximize productivity based on their personality, and take strategic action to finally achieve their dreamy goals—without burning out. Connect with her on Twitter or Instagram, @Saganlives, or learn more at SaganMorrow.com.