How to Write a Romantic Comedy (that your readers will fall for) by Helen Whitaker

Writing.ie | Resources | Better Fiction Guides | Plotting and Planning | Writers’ Tips
Helen Whitaker

Helen Whitaker

Author Helen Whitaker on how to write a romantic comedy that your readers will fall for.

Romance gets a bad rap: the most common insults hurled its way are that the genre isn’t smart (and by extension neither are its readers), the storylines are formulaic and that because the books are (often) easy reads, they’re less accomplished than other novels. Further ‘proof’? Romance is consistently missed off breathless lists deciding what the must-read books for the year are.

And yet.

In 2022, 14.3 million romances were sold between January and August 2022 in the UK*, the bestseller charts are currently bursting with them, and superstars of the genre – such as Emily Henry and Marian Keyes – release new novels to a fanbase as loyal and committed as a Swiftie trying to get tickets for the Eras tour.

Of course, there are bad examples, but when it’s done well, romance and romantic comedy is – to continue the Taylor Swift theme – like a beautiful pop song: exploring universal truths and deeper themes, all while keeping you hooked with a catchy melody.

So how do you ensure your novel avoids the pitfalls while giving all the feelings romance lovers expect from a reassuringly happily-ever-after read?

The beauty of a strong set up

Flying Home for ChristmasHooks and meet-cutes are all much talked about in the book world. Think of your favourite rom-com (book or film) and the heightened scenario that underpins it: late-night comedy writer is swept off her feet by earnest music star (‘Romantic Comedy’ by Curtis Sittenfeld), cynical New Yorkers argue about whether men and women can just be friends (‘When Harry Met Sally’), blocked ghost writer can’t stop seeing actual ghosts, including that of her publishing nemesis (‘Dead Romantics’ by Ashley Poston). In my latest novel, ‘Flying Home for Christmas’, Thea and Logan meet when a freak storm grounds all flights and they’re forced to share the last remaining hotel room at the airport. People fall in love every day, but consider what makes these people worth hearing about? The stronger the start, the more you have to work with – and the easier your one-line elevator pitch to a potential agent or publisher.

Think about the rom to com ratio

You need to give your characters opportunities for romance and comedy. Witty banter is good, but they’re not stand-up comedians and if they never stop wise-cracking they’ll be too exhausted to Get It On – and that’s why we’re all here, after all. So make sure there’s a balance of sincerity and comedy, and that goes for each character. One hilarious main lead opposite a drip doesn’t make for a couple you’re rooting for. Unless that character’s bigger arc is to become less drippy in which case, go for it! This leads us to…

It can’t all be about romantic love

People who are <only> interested in finding a partner are one dimensional (and remember, we’re all about proving the rom-com naysayers wrong). So what else do your characters have in their lives, and how do they need to grow before they can find (or accept) love? Friends, family, jobs and goals all make for a rounded person and will help you to explore bigger themes like life, loss and what brings fulfilment. In all my books, the main characters have some internal and external forces to battle before they can find love, and I get the greatest amount of (slightly backhanded but I’ll take it) compliments on there being ‘more depth’ to my novels than ‘just’ the romance.

Keep things moving

With romance, we know where we’re going. Readers want, nay, expect your main character(s) to find their happy ending, so the journey there needs to be compelling. Obstacles need to be set so they can overcome them, whether it’s that they keep missing chances to find each other, that they’ve boxed themselves into a deception or that they initially loathe each other and cannot escape their presence. Prickly characters work (especially when they’re sparring with each other, see: Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy, plus ‘The Hating Game’ by Sally Thorne) and their flaws make them human (see above), but no one is rooting for someone evil to meet their lobster, so those traits need to either be worked out during their personal journey, or be more idiosyncratic than unforgivable.

Decide your spice level

Yes, I’m talking sexytimes. Readers now often share the levels of, ahem, action from ‘sweet’ to ‘spicy’ with a popular subgenre of TikTok being #spicytok. As the ‘Fifty Shades’ phenomenon proved, some readers love a horny read, and rom-coms run the ratings gamut of PG to ‘whew, I didn’t even know bodies could do that’. How explicit you get is up to you, but whatever the spice level, the chemistry between your main characters needs to be palpable, and their attractiveness apparent (to each other, I’m not here to tell you what you should find hot in a man or woman!) To mix things up, a (deliberately) cringy sex scene can give you more comedy material, while a slow burn to a first kiss can be steamier than a full-on sex scene.

*source: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2022/dec/13/love-boom-romance-novels-biggest-10-years-young-readers

(c) Helen Whitaker

About Flying Home for Christmas:

Flying Home for ChristmasWhen her Christmas Eve flight home to London is grounded by a snowstorm, Thea is desperate to make it back to her family. The only flight available is first thing the next morning, so she books a night’s stay at the closest hotel.

But there’s a problem: there’s only one room, and someone else has beaten her to it.

Logan is tall, gorgeous and charming – and determined to get home for Christmas too. The solution? They’re going to have to share . . .

One thing’s for sure: it’s going to be a Christmas to remember.

Flying Home for Christmas (Hodder & Stoughton) by Helen Whitaker is out now.

Order your copy online here.

About the author

Helen Whitaker is a journalist and author living in London. Formerly the Entertainment Director of Glamour UK, her day job is currently Deputy Editor of High Life magazine. She writes books in her lunch hour, in the evenings and in any free time she has around parenting. Her writing has been published in Grazia, the Telegraph, Fabulous, Stella, Red and on BBC Three. Helen has written three previous novels, The School Run, I Give It a Year and Single in the Snow. Flying Home for Christmas is her fourth novel.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Get all of the latest from writing.ie delivered directly to your inbox.

Featured books