Sunday, April 01, 2018

Camp Nanowrimo, anyone? Answer these 3 questions first!

Who’s doing Camp Nanowrimo?

I’m not being official about it, but the lure is too great to resist. If I do 1000 words a day for the month of April, I should have a rough first draft of the sixth (and last!) book in my Huntress series by May 1.

Well, who could pass that up? And it’s totally doable.

I bet some of you are doing Camp. I know some of you are having a resentful wave of panic at the very thought, possibly because you still haven’t even started your freaking taxes yet, and what sadist from hell ever thought APRIL was a good month for this anyway?

Oh, believe me. I know.

Still. You don’t HAVE to complete a draft (which I would contend is not all that possible in a month, anyway). You don’t HAVE to write 1000 words a day. How about starting with 15 minutes a day and see where that goes?

And you could start today by not writing a word, but simply answering, or starting to ponder these essential questions about your story:

1.     What does your main character WANT?
2.     What is her or his PLAN to get it?
3.     Who or what is standing in her way?

Most people leave out the most essential element of all: #2: THE PLAN.

So if you are not familiar with this concept of THE PLAN, we’ll talk about it this week!

Meanwhile, have a great holiday weekend, whatever you’re celebrating.

-       Alex


Want more? Get full story structure breakdowns of ten movies in each of my workbooks.


                     Get free Story Structure extras and movie breakdowns

                                            STEALING HOLLYWOOD

This new workbook updates all the text in the first Screenwriting Tricks for Authors ebook with all the many tricks I’ve learned over my last few years of writing and teaching—and doubles the material of the first book, as well as adding six more full story breakdowns.


STEALING HOLLYWOOD print, all countries 


Writing Love is a shorter version of the workbook, using examples from love stories, romantic suspense, and romantic comedy - available in e formats for just $2.99.

Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)


Barnes & Noble/Nook

Amazon UK

Amazon DE


Saturday, March 24, 2018

Stealing Hollywood - Character Introductions

There are so many tricks that authors can take from filmmaking to help with character.

Today’s example is the CHARACTER INTRODUCTION.

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I’ve been breaking down HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE for the online class I’m teaching and that movie is superb for this character technique. Every major character has a fantastic character introduction.

Character introductions are painstakingly developed by screenwriters because the making of a movie (at least in the past) almost always hinges on attachments – that is, attracting a star big enough to “open” the movie – that is, bring in enough box office on the opening weekend to earn back production costs.

When you have an actor like that, the studio will finance the movie.

(Okay, now we could go into the fact that lately studios are less and less willing to rely on stars to open movies and why, but this isn’t an article on film financing, it’s an article on character).

And since the character introduction is the first thing an actor will read in the script, and may be the one thing that makes him or her decide to keep reading, that character introduction may be your one shot at the actor who will make your film or consign it to that grim warehouse (one of many grim warehouses) where scripts with no attachments end up.

Actors don’t always read the whole script. I am absolutely sure that all your favorite actors do. And there are actors who convince great directors to sign onto scripts that they love. There are actors who love a script so much that they produce it themselves, without even taking a role in it, to get it made.

Still, and I know you may find this hard to believe - some actors only flip through the script reading all their own lines, and make the determination of whether or not they will play a part from that.

And so no matter how brilliant the rest of your script is, an irresistible character introduction may be your one shot at getting an actor who can get your movie made.

But what does all this have to do with writing novels, you ask?

Well, what I’m saying is that even as a novelist, it doesn’t hurt to think of character in terms of casting. I know some of you design characters (in novels as well as scripts) with actors in mind. I certainly do. You may start writing a scene imagining a certain actor playing the role of the character you have in mind, and use that actor’s voice. I do this, not all the time, but fairly often. I can feel myself writing for an actor, and imagining an actor saying the lines – but then ALWAYS, at a certain point, the character just takes over. Everything I do with character until that point is just treading water until the REAL character shows up.

Then I forget all about actors and creating and designing - I’m really just following the character around taking dictation.

But – until that point, imagining an actor, and writing for that actor, can be a real help in attracting that mysterious being called character.

(I would be worried about sounding completely psychotic at this point except that I’m talking to a bunch of writers and I KNOW YOU KNOW WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT.)

So, if you’re willing to buy into this metaphor I’m working on, that characters are much like actors, and you have to design parts that will attract them to your story and convince them to take on the role…

A really good way to do this is to create an irresistible CHARACTER INTRODUCTION.

Let’s take a look at some great ones.

- Rita Hayworth throwing back her hair in GILDA.

- Dustin Hoffman on stage playing a tomato in TOOTSIE (and then the equally classic introduction of “Dorothy”, struggling to walk down a crowded NY street in high heels and power suit.)

Hoffman as a tomato tells us everything about his character, both his desires and problems: we see the passion he has for acting, the fact that he’s not exactly living up to his potential, and how extremely intractable he has, basically unemployable. It’s also a sly little joke that he’s playing a “tomato” – a derogatory word for a woman.

- Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey in IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE: “Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope, nope, nope. I want a BIG one.” And freeze frame on that handspan… fabulous, funny, sexy introduction. (That big, huh? Mmm.)

This intro also tells us something about George Bailey’s outer DESIRE line – he wants to do big things, build big things, everything big. In fact, the story will be about how all the LITTLE things George does in his life will add up to something more than simply big, but truly enormous.

- Mary Poppins floating down from the sky holding on to that umbrella.

- Katharine Hepburn in PHILADELPHIA STORY, throwing open the window shutters on a gorgeous day and exclaiming, “Good going, God!”

- And okay, let’s just look at the mother lode of brilliant character introductions:  HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER'S STONE.

- Dumbledore: an elderly, medieval looking wizard regally walks down a modern street, using some flashlight-like device to kind of vacuum the lights from the streetlamps into this tool.

- MacGonegal: A cat on a porch meows at Dumbledore, then the shadow of the moving cat turns into the shadow of a witch in pointed hat, and MacGonegal walks regally into frame.

Hagrid: first appears as a glowing light in the sky, very conscious reference to Glinda’s magical appearance in the glowing bubble in THE WIZARD OF OZ (and Hagrid will be the fairy godmother to Harry). Then the Wizard of Oz reference has a humorous twist – Hagrid descends not in a shimmering bubble, but on a Harley.

But the introduction of Hagrid is more than humorous – it tells us a lot about the character. First, the debate that Dumbledore and MacGonegal have over whether Hagrid should have been trusted with the baby tells us a lot about this character we’re about to meet. And when we see Hagrid carrying the baby this hulking giant is as tender as a mother.

Harry Potter: we see him first as a baby in swaddling clothes, left on a doorstep (like every fairy tale changeling and also Moses in the bulrushes, the child who grows up to be the leader of his people), while the witch and the wizard talk about how important he’s going to be - then the scar on the baby’s forehead is match cut to the scar on 11-year old Harry’s forehead to pass time and introduce Harry again.

Again, note that this introduction of Harry tells us a lot about this character – in pure exposition and also by using the visual, archetypal references to Moses – and, let’s face it, the baby Jesus with the three kings (wizards and witch).

Olivander, the wand master: John Hurt slides into frame on a ladder, slyly glowing as only John Hurt can glow.

Nearly Headless Nick: pops his head right through the dinner table.

Of course, having actors like all of the above has more than a little to do with the power of those introductions – obviously we’re talking about screen royalty here.

But those introductions were also specifically designed to be worthy of those stars.

So add character introductions to your list of things to watch for when you look at movies and read books. Note the great ones. The more you become aware of how other storytellers handle this, the better you will be at writing them yourself, for your own characters.

You know the question by now. What are YOUR favorite examples of character introductions?

- Alex

 PS - I'm now microblogging on my Facebook page. Check out how Lee Child introduces Reacher in 61 HOURS!


Want more? Get full story structure breakdowns of ten movies in each of my workbooks.


                     Get free Story Structure extras and movie breakdowns

                                            STEALING HOLLYWOOD

This new workbook updates all the text in the first Screenwriting Tricks for Authors ebook with all the many tricks I’ve learned over my last few years of writing and teaching—and doubles the material of the first book, as well as adding six more full story breakdowns.


STEALING HOLLYWOOD print, all countries 


Writing Love is a shorter version of the workbook, using examples from love stories, romantic suspense, and romantic comedy - available in e formats for just $2.99.

Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)


Barnes & Noble/Nook

Amazon UK

Amazon DE


You can also sign up to get free movie breakdowns here:

                Get free Story Structure extras and movie breakdowns


My Thriller Award-nominated Huntress/FBI Thrillers are ON SALE on Amazon UK.
 All five books 99p each. 

A haunted FBI agent is on the hunt for a female serial killer.
This time, the predators lose. 

Thursday, March 08, 2018

A Wrinkle in Time for International Women's Day

--> Today is International Women’s Day. And tomorrow A Wrinkle in Time opens in theaters nationwide. So I thought I’d combine those topics and write about the book, before I line up to see the movie tomorrow. And then of course I can talk about the movie adaptation!

But first, the book. And women. And writing.

 A Wrinkle in Time is the story of thirteen-year-old misfit Meg Murry, who on a dark and stormy night is visited by three mysterious and iconically eccentric women who transport her, her child prodigy brother Charles Wallace, and her high school crush Calvin O'Keefe, on a cosmic adventure to rescue her scientist father from the evil forces holding him prisoner on a distant planet.

Famously, when author Madeleine L’Engle finished the book in 1960 (pre-YA is putting it mildly!) it was rejected by at least 26 publishers, because it was "too different", and "because it deals overtly with the problem of evil, and it was really difficult for children, and was it a children's or an adults' book, anyhow?" Oh, and “It had a female protagonist in a science fiction book.”

I’m eternally grateful to whatever forces of light were looking out for it.

When people ask me why I write what I do, or even just why I write, instead of rambling on, I could just as well just say A Wrinkle in Time. Countless female author and screenwriter friends, and a good number of the men as well, have said the same thing to me over the years—I suspect just about every woman genre writer who came of age pre-Harry Potter. Meg Murry wasn’t just our Hermione – she was our Harry Potter, too. She is every smart girl who ever lived. We didn’t just read that book—we lived it. We are Meg. And I’m thrilled that through the casting of Storm Reid, the new movie is bringing even more girls into the universality and outsiderness of Meg.

I’ve read just about everything L’Engle ever wrote, fiction and non. Once in a while I realize I’ve missed something and it’s always a treat to add that book to my shelf. She was a huge part of my extremely random spiritual education… in fact she might have been singlehandedly responsible for any spiritual sense I did have in my childhood and early adulthood. I was raised with both no religion and a smattering of a large number of religions. My parents took me and my siblings to Native American ceremonies, Orthodox celebrations, and Hindu holy days. If I spent a weekend night with a friend whose family had a religious practice, they’d drag me along to church or temple. But I was never sold on the idea of a single male God (I mean, come on, really? I love men in general, but omniscient? Let’s just look at the facts, here!).

Then A Wrinkle in Time introduced me to the concept of the Goddess, in the three “witches”: Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who and the very intimidating Mrs. Which. That powerful, eternal feminine triumvirate, whether you describe them as former stars, guardian angels, messengers, centaurs (don’t you love that scene where the three children try to explain them to Mr. Murry?) —is to me the Triple Goddess. It was the most positive depiction of spirituality I’d ever encountered, and the one that made the most sense to me: that the universe manifests itself in guardians, and we are watched over, and we are loved.

(L’Engle herself was a devout Christian, yet the book often appears on the American Library Association list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books, because of references to witches and crystal balls, because it "challenges religious beliefs", and because Jesus appears on a list of “names of great artists, philosophers, scientists, and religious leaders".)
L’Engle’s equally profound influence on me (it’s inseparable, really) was as a genre writer. I always gravitated toward the spooky, the thrilling, the fantastical, the twisted, in my reading. I discovered A Wrinkle in Time when I was in sixth grade and something in my mind said – “THIS is what a book is supposed to be, do, feel like.” It’s a thrilling adventure with flawed but deeply moral characters, fighting for cosmic stakes. While you’re reading you experience it as a breathless, nail-biting ride, but the moral implications imprint on your soul.

In fact, I was so obsessed with the book the year I first read it that I wrote a movie adaptation of the book. This was a pretty radical and prescient thing for me to have done (at age ten!), considering a lot of adults don’t even understand that there is such a thing as an adaptation process from book to screen. I had no inkling at the time that I would grow up to work as a screenwriter and make a living adapting novels for screen. And no desire to, either.

It was just that book. I wanted to live in that book. I wanted to somehow create the world of that book around me. I’m not sure I’ve ever read anything ever since (except, um, Hamlet) that feels as perfect in every way – character, theme, structure, dialogue, action, spectacle, catharsis – every single layer and detail.

I’ve read it dozens, maybe hundreds of times, and I learn something new about how to tell a story every single pass. And not just about the how of it, but the WHY as well. It makes no sense on the surface to write as dark as I do and say that I aspire to the spirituality of that book, but it’s true.

As L’Engle said:

“Why does anybody tell a story? It does indeed have something to do with faith, faith that the universe has meaning, that our little human lives are not irrelevant, that what we choose or say or do matters, matters cosmically.”

I struggle with every book of my Huntress Moon series (currently on Book 6, somewhere in the swamps of Act Two, Part 1…). These are very dark books. They confront crimes so heinous that I think they can only be called evil. My FBI protagonist is often on the verge of giving up entirely; he feels so powerless in the face of what he’s being exposed to. But these crimes exist. Someone must face them and fight them. And once again, I’m looking to A Wrinkle in Time to remind me that even in the darkest abyss, the universe manifests itself in guardians—and we are watched over, and we are loved.

There are other books of L’Engle’s that shaped me as a writer, an author, a genre writer. She wrote thrillers: Arm of the Starfish is a wonderful YA spy thriller, again with a profound spiritual dimension, and even her dramas have such an thriller edge – I’m thinking specifically of A Ring of Endless Light – that I’d almost call them cross-genre. She put urgency and cosmic stakes into everything she ever put on paper.

But A Wrinkle in Time is a masterwork… and I guess it’s always in the back of my mind, the question – will I ever be open enough, focused enough, skilled enough, mature enough… enough anything – to write something that is everything I could write, in a perfect world?

I don’t know. But at least I have a light to guide me on that path.

So how about you, readers and authors? Do you have A Wrinkle in Time experiences? Or was there another book that most influenced your childhood and/or writing?

Are you seeing the movie this weekend?

-        Alex


All five books of the Huntress/FBI Thrillers are on sale in the UK: 99p through April 1 on Amazon.
This really is a series that needs to be read in order, so this is a fabulous way to get started. 
Audiobook listeners - you can add RC Bray's award-winning narration for $3.99 and under!

Monday, February 19, 2018

Women in Horror: Crossing Genres to Create Theme

February is Black History Month, which I'm happily observing this week by watching Lena Waithe's fabulous The Chi on Showtime; reading the time-travel classic Kindred, by Octavia Butler,  visiting the Noah Purifoy Outdoor Museum in Joshua Tree; and lining up for Black Panther.

February is also Women in Horror Month. I hadn't remembered that until today, because, well, it's been Women in Horror Year, now into Year Two of the horror.

But my name and books always pop up for Women in Horror month in my Twitter feed and on my Facebook page (like this review of Hunger Moon in Cemetery Dance) because that's where I started as an author, and did quite a lot of as a screenwriter before that. Being a woman in horror gained me some instant recognition, because there are so few of us writing if. In fact, I was just at The Last Bookstore in downtown LA this week, and the "Horror Vault" (a literal bank vault) consisted of shelves of male authors plus Anne Rice, whose books I love, but to my mind she's not really a horror writer at all.

And neither am I, any more, for many reasons.

There’s definitely a bias in the industry against female horror authors. It doesn’t affect me in a practical sense because I’ve moved into writing very dark thrillers rather than overt horror. I love both genres; I went back and forth between the two, or crossed the two, as a screenwriter –  and I’m a full-time writer, so I’m not about to struggle against a genre that disparages women AND doesn’t pay as well as the thriller genre.  

The Haunted thrillers, box set
Beyond that, I’d really rather not use the word “horror” to describe even my four supernatural novels because I think the genre has been brought to a very low, base level by torture porn. I find it disgusting and harmful. It doesn’t deserve to be listed with the true psychological horror of Jackson, Lovecraft, Shelley, King, Poe – the great explorers of the dark side. I don’t write torture porn and I won’t read or watch it, either.

But there's no question that part of my brand as an author is mixing elements of horror with crime. I started that with my witch thriller Book of Shadows, which crosses a police procedural with an exploration of modern witchcraft practice and the possibility of demonic possession and satanic murder.

But I really found my stride with the Huntress Moon series, which confronts the existential horror of sexual abuse, sexual assault and sex trafficking in a realistic FBI procedural. The collective evil of sexual predation and the laws and social systems that defend and perpetuate sexual abuse take on an almost supernatural presence in the books, without ever becoming overtly supernatural.

I use techniques I learned writing horror for both books and film to create that creeping sense of suspense and evil, and it gets readers turning pages ever though I'm writing blatantly social and political themes and confronting real legal deficiencies and institutional atrocities.

It's made the series quite successful as books and led to a TV deal, because this is just the kind of edgy boundary-pushing that is finally, finally popular in television now.

Using horror to explore social and political issues can be powerfully effective, as we saw last year in Jordan Peele's razor-sharp, game-changing Get Out.

And I just read Kindred, the classic, brilliant, brutal time travel/neo slave narrative novel by the Grande Dame of science fiction, Octavia Butler (my way of celebrating both Black History and Women in Horror at once).

Kindred takes its 1970's African American heroine, Dana, on a harrowing time trip back to the 1815 plantation where her ancestors were enslaved, and she must both survive the constant atrocities of the time, and guard her white plantation ancestor from harm in order to preserve her own family line.

Now that's horror - the horror of slavery that we've never healed as a nation, so evident in the racism which is rising up around and apparently in us again today. (People in my neighborhood got it delivered right to their doorsteps this week: racism not only in the headlines, but in the white supremacist flyers that someone had slipped into the newspapers).

And of course,  using horror to explore philosophical and political issues of the day goes back much, much farther than that. Consider Mary Shelley, whose Frankenstein is being feted all over the world on its bicentennial anniversary. Her themes of the moral implications of scientific exploration and the failings of the patriarchy still resonate powerfully today.

So how about you authors out there? Have you ever considered using the conventions and sugarcoating of genre to deliver the themes that are most important to you?

And readers, do you have favorite genre-benders that carry a potent social or political or philosophical message?

 - Alex

All five books of the Huntress/FBI Thrillers are on sale: $2.00 through March 1 on Amazon US.
This really is a series that needs to be read in order, so this is a fabulous way to get started. 
Audiobook listeners - you can ad RC Bray's award-winning narration for $3.99 or under!

          Special Agent Matthew Roarke and mass killer Cara Lindstrom return - in 

                                        Book 5 of the Huntress/FBI Thrillers.

                                       College rapists better watch their backs.


                    Book 5: in print, ebook and audio. Buy here, 

In the new book, Roarke and his FBI team are forced to confront the new political reality when they are pressured to investigate a series of mysterious threats vowing death to college rapists... while deep in the Arizona wilderness, mass killer Cara Lindstrom is fighting a life-and-death battle of her own.

For thousands of years, women have been prey.

No more.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Stealing Hollywood: Love Story Elements

How about a love story post for Valentine’s Day?

I spend a lot of time here and in my Stealing Hollywood  workshops breaking down story  elements that are applicable to any genre.
But there are other story element, just as important, that are specific to whatever genre or genres you’re writing in, and also elements that are specific to the KIND of story you’re writing.

                  Get free Story Structure extras and movie breakdowns

I really had that driven home for me as I was writing Writing Love (Screenwriting Tricks II). I made a master list of ten love stories in different subgenres (in this case not always my favorites, because I wanted to have a broad range of romantic stories for analysis and discussion) and broke them down in depth to find the key story elements specific to that umbrella genre. And oh, did it turn the lights on for me.

I’m going to share some of those with you now, because whether or not you write romance or romantic comedy, you’ll almost always have a love plot in your story, so it’s useful for writers of all genres to be aware of common love story elements.

The following are some scenes and setups that are very typical in romance and romantic comedy. You can do a similar list of specific elements for any genre, and I highly encourage you to do so — it’s another way to master your craft.

I’ve tried to focus mostly on plot points or premises instead of just gags or bits — that is, these are actual story elements that can help you build a story if you use them wisely. And these elements will often overlap with the key story elements we’ve been discussing: that is, the CALL TO ADVENTURE in a love story might be a case of FATE INTERVENES; THE PLAN might be to PRETEND WE’RE MARRIED; THE HERO/INE’S GHOST might show up at the MIDPOINT and radically shift the dynamics of the story, and so on.

Now, any of these love story elements can be done badly and devolve into the worst kind of cliché. The point of knowing the common elements is to be aware they’ve been done before and find your own unique ways of using them, if you’re going to use them.

I’m not going to waste time on the clichés, for which there probably is no hope, ever, but here’s my own partial list of those clunkers, which I’m sure you can add to:

The hardboiled career woman who needs thawing
• The heroine working as a book or magazine editor (Really? Another one?)
The heroine loosening up in a drunk scene (and recently, promptly vomiting on the hero’s shoes)
The hero/ine spilling something on the love interest (truly vomit-inducing, usually a pathetic version of “meet cute”)
 The African American or gay best friend who has no other purpose in life but to support the hero/ine (and of course, show how wonderfully open-minded the hero/ine is)
The climactic race to the airport to stop the loved one from leaving (like there’s not another plane leaving in an hour or two?)

I’m already nauseated just making that much of a list, but you get the point. Let’s go on to some common elements that are much used, but still useful, used wisely.


In a love story, while the INCITING INCIDENT that starts off the story action may be a job offer, a wedding invitation, a mis-booked hotel room, or any other inciting incident common to any genre, the actual CALL TO ADVENTURE in a love story is very, very often that first look at the beloved. This is why so often that first look seems on the surface to be HATE AT FIRST SIGHT — it’s a variation on the RELUCTANT HERO/INE (or REFUSAL OF THE CALL). When we meet that true love, there’s often as much or more fear and panic involved as joy and relief. Life is never going to be the same, and we know it.


An example of MISAPPREHENSION, which is a form of MISTAKEN IDENTITY. Bridget Jones’ Diary, New in Town.


In a love story, the Ghost or Wound is most often related to love and attachment, obviously: the heroine’s parents died when she was a child (The Proposal), the hero’s father has had a succession of failed marriages (Made of Honor, You’ve Got Mail), the heroine’s father was always chasing rainbows, impoverishing the family (Leap Year).

The Ghost often comes out deep into the story in a confessional scene in which the hero/ine reveals to the love interest WHY I’M LIKE THIS (often at the MIDPOINT), but it’s generally better storytelling to dramatize it. For example, in You’ve Got Mail, when Tom Hanks’ father leaves his much younger wife and moves in with Tom in his temporary crash pad (boat), we see Tom realize he doesn’t want to be like his father and that he loves Meg (which in this story is THE ACT TWO CLIMAX/REVELATION into the FINAL BATTLE).


In Romancing the Stone, Joan needs Jack to take her out of the jungle and back to Cartagena; Jack needs Joan’s money because he’s just lost all the rare birds he was smuggling. In The Proposal, Margaret needs Andrew to pretend he’s married to her so she won’t be deported, and she threatens him with career annihilation if he refuses; Andrew agrees to do it if Margaret promotes him and publishes a book he loves.

In Leap Year, Anna needs Declan to take her to Dublin; Declan needs Anna’s money to save his pub from foreclosure. In What Happens in Vegas, a judge orders Cameron Diaz and Aston Kutcher to remain married for six months if they want to split the three million dollar casino payoff they won together. (This story beat is also often an OFFER S/HE CAN’T REFUSE.)

A common variation on Handcuffing the Couple Together is:


It’s amazing how often romantic comedy uses this device. Fate, very often in the form of the weather, prevents the hero/ine from leaving town (New in Town, Groundhog Day) or deposits them on the opposite side of the country from where they are supposed to be (Leap Year) so that the hero/ine can meet his or her true love.

This is especially well done in Groundhog Day, as I talk about at length in my breakdown of that classic film— I swear, those clouds are scheming.


A plot point that usually comes early in the first act: the hero/ine is locked into a situation because his/her boss or family or a judge gives them an ultimatum — e.g. in The Proposal, if Margaret does not fake a marriage with Andrew, she will be deported. Also see New in Town, Leap Year, What Happens in Vegas.


False identity was a staple for Shakespeare’s comedies, and is still widely used in romantic comedy, sometimes as a scene or sequence (pretending to be a sister or a fiancée), sometimes as the whole premise of the story: While You Were Sleeping, Tootsie.


I don’t have to explain this one, do I? It’s the first time the hero and heroine let down their respective guards and start to spill personal information. It’s very often done very badly, as an information dump.


A staple of romantic comedy; it can be a scene, as in Leap Year where Anna and Declan must pretend to be married in order to get a room for the night at a bed & breakfast owned by religiously conservative proprietors, or it can be the whole premise of the story: whether it’s to get an inheritance or some other large chunk of money (What Happens in Vegas), or get a green card (The Proposal, Green Card).


A different kind of scene, more spontaneous — in which the couple find themselves digging in a garden or working well together in a kitchen (Leap Year) or one of them talks the other off an emotional ledge (Sally gently calming Harry down after he explodes in front of their best friends in When Harry Met Sally), and we get a glimpse of the well-matched couple they would be.


A staple of all genres, often used very unconvincingly, so be careful. Some good examples: In Leap Year, Anna needs to get to Dublin by Leap Day to propose to her reluctant boyfriend. In The Proposal, Margaret and Andrew have four days to get to know each other well enough to convincingly pass themselves off as married to a suspicious INS agent. At the climax of When Harry Met Sally, Harry is desperate to get to a New Year’s Eve party in time to kiss Sally at the stroke of midnight, something he utterly failed to do the year before.


Can be a scene, or a whole premise, in which the hero/ine bets friends that s/he — usually he — can bed or dump a lover in a certain timeframe (How to Lose A Guy in Ten Days). Or some other bet that leads to a romantic entanglement (Pygmalion, My Fair Lady).


Sometimes the second time is the charm. Or not. Sweet Home Alabama, Philadelphia Story, It’s Complicated.


The idea that there is a magical day, or hour, or place, that will lead magically to true love and/or marriage. Leap Year has a heroine racing across Ireland in order to propose to her reluctant boyfriend on Leap Day, when traditionally men are obliged to accept any proposal they receive. Four Weddings and a Funeral plays with the idea that a wedding is a magical moment in time in which not only the bridal couple but anyone in attendance can find true love.


This is appallingly lacking in most love stories: some indicator of why we’re supposed to want this couple to get together to begin with. I know, love is a hard thing to define, but please, give us something! Some common explanations:

Opposites attract (Leap Year, Groundhog Day)
A shared passion (New in Town)
In a class by themselves (Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn in Philadelphia Story)
They bring out each other’s best selves (Sense and Sensibility)
They make each other laugh
 They understand and support each other’s most cherished dreams (While You Were Sleeping, Sense and Sensibility)
          • They’re best friends (The Thin Man series)

I’m sure you can think of lots of others. In fact, why not spend a minute now and:


This is one of the most crucial scenes in any romance or romantic subplot, and one that goes a long way toward explaining WHY THEM? The Dance is a scene in which we see that two people are perfect for each other: they have the same rhythm, they work around each other’s flaws, they have the same passion, they complete each other. One of my favorites is the beautiful scene in Sense and Sensibility in which Edward and Elinor coax Elinor’s younger sister, Margaret, out from where she has been hiding under the library table by pretending ignorance of the source of the Nile. We see that Edward and Elinor are perfectly matched: both intelligent, witty, sensitive, kind, and off-the-wall. They are at their most charming when they’re together, and we are totally committed to the relationship by the end of the short scene. So much more meaningful than “Meet Cute”!

In fact, I’m going to end right there because THE DANCE is just that important to get right! How about it –

Can you identify THE DANCE in Notting Hill? In Groundhog Day? In The Proposal?

Even better, can you give me some examples of THE DANCE, maybe in your favorite romantic movie? Extra bonus points for Youtube links to clips!!

And have a wonderful, romantic day.

- Alex 


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