Last week at GWN headquarters, a workshop was hosted, like one is every month, and like previous months, we were presented with a brand new kind of writing style, screenwriting. We had a lineup of experienced mentors in this area — mine included! — and one very special guest author. This author was none other than Sabrina Dhawan, best known for her romantic comedyMonsoon Wedding.
When she walked into the room, she took a poll. She asked who was interested in screenwriting and she wanted us to answer honestly. Out of about 60 or so mentees and mentors, about 10 to 12 hands shot up. Mine was not one included at all. Don’t get me wrong, I find nothing wrong with screenwriting. I just felt I wasn’t really good at it. This writing style takes imagination and common social skills because you have to figure out what each character would say to each other. But every time, I’d try to start writing dialogue, the dark rain cloud of writer’s block poured on me. I think I have a healthy imagination but every time I looked down at my ever so taunting blank sheet of paper, not one unicorn rode through my mind.
My opinion changed drastically by the end of the workshop. Characters!Yeah, that’s right. Made up people, animals or any inanimate objects we could make come to life through description. Sabrina gave us some tips on how to make our characters more believable and three dimensional. She asked us to start our characters from scratch, and to make them as realistic as possible, to the point that we as readers believe they exist in a distant place we haven’t heard of or know about yet. We gave them traits, created their likes, dislikes, personalities, and characteristics.
Once we got down to the basics of our characters we had to take into consideration things like what the character wants as opposed to what do they need. This is a common dilemma in real life and we learned that’s what makes fictional characters more relatable. The genre of romantic comedy gave us a lot of room to be creative, but it also meant that we had to meet some requirements. Original questions like what do they want and what do they need, evolved into who do they want and who do they need.
Sabrina also reminded us that the old saying, “opposites attract,” may very well be true. That’s when it got fun! We, as the authors, got to play match maker with our characters. For example, my character came from a wealthy background and by some weird fate she meets someone from a lesser privileged family and falls in love. The conflict in this scenario was that my character’s family didn’t find her love interest worthy enough and picked the “ideal man” they believed she should have. In this case, I had to find a way to get the two truly in love together.
When writing a romantic comedy, you have options. All that really matters is that the couple winds up together or in love. One option could be to start by making the characters really close in the beginning and then using a different conflict to drive them apart until one day they discover each other again. In my opinion, this storyline is most commonly used. Another option is to take two completely different people from two different worlds who probably hate or dislike each other and push them together using a mutual interest or coincidentally setting them in the same place at the same time. The gravity of love is what I like to call it. Now of course getting our characters to that final place will be a journey but it should be entertaining as well. Throw some obstacles into the mix, like maybe an ex, distance or lack of communication.
Sabrina also suggested that we build our audience’s anticipation, then satisfy them. In other words, make ‘em beg for it! Make it look so easy for the characters to unite in the beginning and then throw them in two completely different directions. Make the audience doubt the fact that they will unite despite their prior knowledge of how romantic comedies work. I personally like to exercise in the area of denial in my characters!
Before departing, Sabrina left us with a quote, “The more specific you are, the more universal you become.” To me, this means that the more effort I put into my characters personality, the more they can relate to my audience. This is the best advise I’ve heard regarding screenwriting so far. I strongly suggest everyone try this writing style and see where it takes them. Any writing that you create is part of you, describing you. Why not put on a mask for a while and watch what‘s in your mind come to life through writing and performance?