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Thursday, August 2, 2012

GIRL OUT OF TIME-Play it for Laughs .................by Melodie Campbell

“Is that a broadsword on your belt, or are you just glad to see me?”
Is there anything more fun than screwball comedy?  I’m thinking of the old days of Rock Hudson and Debbie Reynolds, Hepburn and Tracy.  Boy meets girl.  Boy is attracted to girl but something crazy happens that makes girl so mad at him, they spend the entire novel or movie getting revenge…until the last scene, when they get each other.  A well-written romantic comedy is delightful and makes you feel good all over.

Author Melodie Campbell
Behind all novels, there is conflict.  In Romance, we are looking to get a man and a woman together.  But there must be conflict, there must be a reason why they can’t get together or there is no story.  Otherwise two people meet and their relationship grows smoothly.  A nice happy life for them, but not much for a reader to get excited about.

So how does one sustain a romance plot that will last at least 60,000 words?  Somehow, you have to come up with conflict.  There has to be a reason why the man and woman can’t be together, or refuse to be together, even when everyone else knows they belong with each other.

When writing historical fiction, it’s easy to find sources of conflict.  The man is the wrong religion, or the woman is not the same class…the father can refuse to allow it…lots of reasons.  Shakespeare made an industry of it. But today, anything goes.  It’s enough to make a grown writer cry.  Drat that sexual revolution.  Drat that our earlier taboos are now so much history.

How can a romance writer find enough plot to make the romance conflict fresh?


  1. USE COMEDY.  Here’s how I do it: I call it my law of the ‘worst thing’.  Take a situation, and ask ‘what’s the worst thing that could happen now’?  Or the most embarrassing thing?  Example:  A seventeen year old girl moves to a new town and is the new girl.  First day of school, very nervous, she drives her mother’s car into the school parking lot.  What’s the most embarrassing thing that could happen?  She hits another car in the lot with everyone watching.  And the worst thing?  It’s the prize car of the most popular boy in school.  Whammo.  Instant disaster.  Later, she’s driving home on a country road, and her car breaks down.  Who comes by in the next car, and stops to help?  The same guy.  He can’t believe it’s her.  She wants to die of embarrassment.  They never stand a chance as a couple, right?

Move it to an adult romance novel.  The new girl at the advertising agency drives into the company parking lot on the very first day and hits the gorgeous eligible bachelor’s new car…you get the drift.

  1. USE FANTASY.  If – like me - you find it a challenge to sustain believable conflict that would separate a man and a woman in modern times, how about switching to a different setting?  Put her in a ‘girl out of time’ situation and watch the fun appear.  Create a fantasy world where the rules are different and your heroine has to push past a whole bunch of obstacles to get her man.  Make these obstacles ones that don’t exist in 21st century North America.

Add comedy, and you’ve got a winning combination.  What’s the funniest thing that could happen to your girl out of time?  Then, what’s the worst thing?

In my books, I follow the ‘worst thing’ rule to the maximum.  What’s the worst thing that could happen to the heroine when she walks through that classroom wall?  Or the wackiest?  My gal goes through lots of ‘worst things’ until she finally gets the man she wants in the last chapter. 

Here’s the key, as I’ve discovered it:

The trick to combining humor and conflict is to play each against the other.  Taut suspense is broken up by bathos, making the suspenseful parts seen more dramatic.  And – as I have learned from writing my own novels – one can make humor seem more funny by juxtaposing it against gripping danger.

In fact, a steady diet of unrelenting wacky humour can make one grow blase, just as a steady diet of porn might dull one to sensuality.

But that is another column entirely.  On a slightly softer note, can you combine humor with sexual passion?  Read Rowena and make your own decision.

Melodie Campbell is the author of three novels, including the comic time travel novel Rowena Through the Wall.  Melodie got her start writing comedy.  In 1999, she opened the Canadian Humour Conference.  She has over 200 publications, including 40 short stories and has won 6 awards for short fiction.  Melodie was a finalist for the 2012 Derringer Award and Arthur Ellis Award, and is the General Manager of Crime Writers of Canada.

 Rowena Through the Wall

“Is that a broadsword on your belt, or are you just glad to see me?”

When Rowena falls through her classroom wall into a medieval world, she doesn’t count on being kidnapped – not once, but twice, dammit. Unwanted husbands keep piling up; not only that, she has eighteen-year-old Kendra to look out for, and a war to prevent.  Good thing she can go back through the wall when she needs to…or can she?


Alison E. Bruce said...

I am a big fan of the screwball romantic comedy and of your writing, Mel. "The Worst Thing" rule is one I keep in mind now when I'm writing. Thanks!

Nancy said...

I love a little comedy, even in my romantic suspense. Levity can make the darker moments darker. Thanks for the insight.

Cathy Astolfo said...

I agree that comedy is necessary for most novels - or at least, a moment of comic relief. Too much angst makes me want to curl up in a ball. Laughing does too, but in a good way.

Denise Robinson said...

I do hope you continue writing because you have this ability to inspire others and inform others as well.

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