Putting the rom into com

About writing

Writing and reading - Mo FanningAt some point soon, I’ll need to write something that convinces my readers that a failed corporate advertising executive could fall in love with a guy who sells the Big Issue. Fair enough, that’s the stuff that rom-com is made of – bonding against the odds and often because of them. But when I first asked my beta readers what they thought of a (very) early draft, it was this concept that they flagged as hardest to accept.

“Can you make it clear he isn’t a tramp sipping meths and living in a box?” one of them said. She added that she hoped that didn’t sound in any way dismissive of Big Issue sellers. After merciless mocking of such overt political correctness, I took the feedback on board.

No matter how wrong this may be, the phrase homeless comes with certain preconceptions. And I probably should mention that my Big Issue is a reformed alcoholic, so my beta reader did sort of have a point.

It got me pondering how soon I could spin up the rom in the com.

Too much, too soon

How many films have I started to watch, and then stopped, just because an unlikely pairing gets flagged up too soon? A misty eyed exchange across the boardroom table between sworn enemies, the (hot when he has a make-over) homeless guy who helps when the ditzy lead drops her shopping in the street.

At the same time, stuff like this can’t come out of nowhere. Sparks need to smoulder before they burst into flame.

This morning, I looked back over my plot outline. This is the writerly thing some of us pretend to stick to for every work in progress. Have I featured him enough? Has he had enough lines? Are they lines that suggest hidden depths (and soap)? Does the other romantic lead have space in her heart and her head to jump on board?

Beyond belief?

Obviously the very idea of their getting together must be both credible and absurd, or where’s the reader interest? But how absurd before credible goes? In a book like the one I’m trying to complete, it feels like every (non-romantic) exchange must be sprinkled with a hint of the possible.

I’m about 30,000 words in, a third of the way through my plot outline and this feels like the right time to step the romance up a gear. The pages I write today will matter, and they need to convince me as much as anyone.

This isn’t a Hollywood movie where the character gets sent away for a makeover to meet some absurd plot twist (she gets dumped at the last minute before an important company event and needs a plus one).

I need ‘Danny’ to drift into focus in ‘Sally’s’ life. He’s already there as someone she knows. He’s already moved from nodding acquaintance to friend. The next steps matter.

As a writer, how do you handle this? Flag it from page one, or wait for the moment? Should romance come out of the blue or do you lay down clues?

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