Lately I’ve been trying to understand how plot works in traditional narratives. My experimental poetry professors at San Francisco State University, bless their hearts, never had much to say on the topic (and even if they had, I’d have scoffed at the time). I’m quite convinced now, however, that plot is the key to my artistic salvation. So in case you, too, are wondering how structure works, here is how Billy Mernit defines the “seven basic romantic comedy beats” in Writing the Romantic Comedy: How to Write Screenplays that Sell…
1. The Chemical Equation: Setup
A scene or sequence identifying the exterior and /or interior conflict (i.e. unfulfilled desire), the “what’s wrong with this picture” implied in the protagonist’s (and/or the antagonist’s) current status quo.
2. Cute Meet: The Catalyst
The inciting incident that brings man and woman [or man and man or woman and woman] together and into conflict; an inventive but credible contrivance, often amusing, which in some way sets the tone for the action to come.
3. A Sexy Complication: Turning Point
Traditionally occurring at the end of Act 1, a new development that raises story stakes and clearly defines the protagonist’s goal; most successful when it sets man and woman at cross-purposes and/or their inner emotions at odds with the goal.
4. The Hook: Midpoint
A situation that irrevocably binds the protagonist with the antagonist (often while tweaking sexual tensions) and has further implications for the outcome of the relationship.
5. Swivel: Second Turning Point
Traditionally occurring at the end of Act 2, stakes reach their highest point as the romantic relationship’s importance jeopardizes the protagonist’s chance to succeed at his [or her] stated goad–or vice versa–and his [or her] goal shifts.
6. The Dark Moment: Crisis Climax
Wherein the consequences of the swivel decision yield disaster; generally, the humiliating scene where private motivations are revealed, and either the relationship and/or the protagonist’s goal is seemingly lost forever.
7. Joyful Defeat: Resolution
A reconciliation that reaffirms the primal importance of the relationship; usually a happy ending that implies marriage or a serious commitment, often at the cost of some personal sacrifice to the protagonist.