Writing romantic comedy: Nancy Meyers

Do the same writing rules apply to films as to novels? Film director Nancy Meyers – What Women Want, and It’s Complicated – told Grazia magazine [January 18, 2010] the top six things she thinks women want at the movies. Do they apply to romantic novels too?

Nancy Meyers

[photo: Wikipedia]

One. Cast a lead man who looks like a nice person. “Most women’s husbands and boyfriends don’t look like movie stars. That’s why I cast Jack Black as Kate Winslet’s love interest in The Holiday.

Two. Romance doesn’t always mean boy meets girl. “Women want films with substance humour, which also reflect their own lives.” She cites The Devil Wears Prada, where the romance is between the woman and her work, her relationship with her boyfriend didn’t really matter.

Three. Don’t sideline the women. She is disappointed with some romcom films. “A couple of years ago, all the romantic comedies were guys with guys, films like Wedding Crashers or Knocked Up”. Nancy MeyersFour. Less can be more. Movies don’t need to be big productions with massive budgets. She cites the classic 1960 comedy-drama The Apartment which was filmed in 30 days. “These days, audiences are used to getting something new and more dazzling every second, so film-makers forget about the basic things they really need – the romance and the comedy.”

Five. The age of the leading lady is irrelevant. “For It’s Complicated, it wasn’t like I decided to return to people in their fifties, the age I focussed on in Something’s Gotta Give….I just base films on myself, what want to see.” Nancy MeyersSix. Make the ending happy. “A happy ending is a universal desire – but that doesn’t mean your hero and heroine have to end up living happily ever after together.” In It’s Complicated, the two characters have the chance to talk about why their relationship didn’t work the first time round, many couples who split up don’t get that chance.

Click here to watch the trailers for Nancy Meyers’ two romantic comedies: What Women Want and It’s Complicated.

Nancy Meyers


‘Nancy Meyers: The Bloomsbury Companion to Contemporary Filmmakers [UK: Bloomsbury] Buy now

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
Writing romantic comedies: tips from Nancy Meyers #amwriting http://wp.me/p5gEM4-1Ak via @SandraDanby


  1. I’ve always been suspicious about books that read too much like screen plays and rely heavily on screen play idioms. Books that are adapted for screen plays – there’s the key word. Nancy Meyers knows her genre, but a book is not a script for a movie, and even the plot and characters will have substantive differences. Also to consider: a movie needs its viewer’s attention span for an hour and a half. A book requires more significant commitment from its reader. There may be some cross over, but women who like romantic comedies in film may have a broader interest in books. Let’s hope so.

    • sandradan1

      Absolutely. Some romantic comedies can be very glib – films and novels – with a too simplistic approach to life. I particularly dislike characters who are too nice – we are all flawed, all have unattractive characteristics, do things of which we are ashamed. Another pet hate is novels where every loose ending is conveniently tied-up. Life isn’t like that. I want to be left with some questions, things to think about. I guess I want a bar of plain chocolate with almonds, rather than a box of Dairy Box. SD

  2. My number one rule would be have a romance between 2 individuals. I can’t bear romantic comedies where neither of leads seems to have any personality & we’re supposed to root for them just because they’re good-looking, it’s so dull. Nancy Meyers avoids this but so many romantic comedies seem to fall into the trap. I love The African Queen – 2 strong individuals who fall in love without giving up who they are as people – lovely!

    • sandradan1

      ‘The African Queen’ is one of my favourite movies. I do know what you mean about individuals. I enjoy reading about – and writing about – realistic, flawed people, so much easier to identify with. At least more films are being made now about older people. I particularly enjoyed ‘Quartet’, directed by Dustin Hoffman, based on a play by Ronald Harwood. It’s about a group of retired musicians, thrown together in later life. I guess the key is that there needs to be less focus on ‘romance’ and more on ‘relationship, including romance’. Or am I being pedantic? SD