If you’ve got a great idea for a movie centered on a romance the first thing you need to do is understand the structural differences that define each romance genre. Here are the three primary romance genres and some thoughts on how to approach them:
Let’s start with the broadest of the romance genres, romantic films. These are movies which have a romance as the primary plot. They can end happily or sadly. The best recent examples of this kind of film are the films based on Nicholas Sparks’ novels. The plots generally center around a crisis, an illness, an accident, an abusive spouse. Love is the thing that leads to the complications in the plot.
One of the greatest romance films of all times—some would say the greatest—is Casablanca. It has a very simple structure. Rick and Ilsa appear in six scenes together: They meet again, Rick has a flashback, Ilsa comes to see him and he rejects her, they meet in the market and she rejects him, she comes to see him again and they reconnect, Rick puts her on the plane with her husband. All the other scenes in the movie support this main romantic plot. What makes the film great is the fact that Rick and Ilsa (at various times) both choose duty over love.
The main difference between romantic comedies and the other types of romantic films is not the word comedy. The word comedy original conveyed that a story would end happily, and when it comes to romantic comedies it isn’t always necessary that they be very funny though they do have to end happily. Typically, though, romantic comedies do bring the jokes.
The big thing structural difference between romantic comedies and romantic films or romance films that end happily is that in a romantic comedy the heroine (or hero) must learn something about herself, once she’s done that she is then able to find love. Love is primarily a reward in these films. For example, in Bridget Jones Diary (which is based on Pride and Prejudice) Bridget doesn’t believe she’s ‘acceptable’ as she is and devotes a lot of her attention on ways she should change to become ‘acceptable’. When Mark Darcy tells her that he likes her ‘just as she is’ she recognizes the truth in that begins to accept herself. She’s now ready for love.
These films are close relatives to romance novels. Love conquers all. Whatever the character’s problem is it needs to be solved by love. This has not always been a strong genre on film but cable channels like Hallmark are taking a real interest and creating a film market by adapting romance novels like the series Chesapeake Shores. So, if you’re a big fan of romance novels keep a close eye on this market and considered jumping in.
If you’re new to this subgenre the structural things you need to know are: there absolutely must be a happy ending, there can be light humor, there can be tragedy but in the end love is the solution.
But Don’t Most Movies Include Romance?
Any discussion of romance in films inevitably raises the question, ‘Don’t most stories include romance?’ The answer is yes, but— Most films have romantic subplots but that doesn’t put them into a romance genre. A subplot is only a handful of scenes, usually at least three, and supports but does not dominate the film. If it borrows too much from any of the genres above it can easily take over the story so it’s good to be sparing when creating subplots.
An example of one way to use a romantic subplot is the film Arrival. (spoiler alert) Parts of the film are told out of order but eventually, we figure out that scenes which seem like flashbacks are actually flashforwards. Linguist Louise (Amy Adams) is having visions of what will happen in the future, she will marry fellow scientist Ian (Jeremy Renner) and have a child. Their romance, which is barely in the film, is used as a way to further illuminate the plot as it is both the result of the aliens’ visit and also doomed by the alien visit.
So, what films are you watching for Valentine’s Day?