Summary of this month’s movie:
Here come the spoilers! In New York City, Bobby Lieber, is a podcast host and a curator for the upcoming National LGBTQ+ History Museum. At a nightclub, Bobby, who prides himself on being single, spots Aaron Shepard. They flirt, but Aaron doesn’t seem interested. Despite that, they spend some together, but their connection doesn’t seem that strong. Bobby feels Aaron acts too straight, and Aaron thinks Bobby is too intense and is intimidated by his clout in the gay community. Aaron later discovers his high school crush, Josh, has come out as gay.
Aaron confides to Bobby that his dream was to be a chocolatier, but he thought it unachievable and never pursued it. Bobby invites Aaron to a trip, where Aaron helps him secure a large donation to the struggling museum. Bobby is impressed, and the two grow closer romantically. Bobby opens up about having to tone down his flamboyant behavior to make others comfortable.
Bobby and Aaron date for several months and Aaron integrates into Bobby's group of friends. At a Christmas party, Josh arrives and Aaron asks Bobby if they can have a threesome. Bobby agrees but regrets it when it brings up a lot of his insecurities. Aaron's family comes to the city for a visit, and Aaron’s reaction to Bobby's outspoken behavior causes a rift between the two men. Aaron sorta hooks up with Josh again, and they break up.
In the time they spend apart, Bobby admits to his coworkers that he is struggling with some identity issues and that he knows he can be a lot. Meanwhile, Aaron quits his job to make freaking adorable chocolates, giving all proceeds to the museum. They both miss the other.
On the opening night of the museum, a large crowd turns out. After talking to his friend, Bobby decides to text Aaron. Aaron receives the text and is encouraged by his brother to go after the person he loves, arriving just as Bobby begins his speech. When he sees Aaron, he proceeds to sing a song he wrote about their relationship, inspired by the music of Garth Brooks, Aaron's favorite singer. When the song ends, Bobby and Aaron kiss, to applause from the crowd. Three months later, Aaron's mother brings her second grade class to the museum, and Bobby and Aaron are still dating.
Carly, what did you think of this movie?
Carly: I really really liked this movie. It has been such a long time since a good romantic comedy has come out. Or at least it feels like it. There have been a couple random ones but they weren’t very mainstream. So it was nice to get back into that comfort and humor again. It was very funny. I mean, I always love Billy Eichner and his humor, so I wasn’t surprised. But I think they did a really good job of blending that humor with a compelling romance. I wanted them to be together in the end, even when I got mad at them. And it touched on some intense topics as well. I loved the conversations he had about the museum, what it would mean to him and what he and his colleagues wanted to showcase and why. I really only have compliments. I enjoyed it, I laughed, I cried, and I had a smile on my face at the end. Which is honestly the best reaction you can have to a romantic comedy.
Jeni: I feel like that about romantic comedies too! Like, where did they all go? I hope we see more again soon. I miss them. I really liked the movie too. Basically all of what you said. I liked some of the meta moments of drawing comparisons to When Harry Met Sally because I think, as much as that movie was about what men and women were like in relationships in the 90s, this is a movie like that for gay men now. I’m sure it relies on a lot of stereotypes and cliches, just like When Harry Met Sally did, but overall, it’s a great romcom. I do have to say though, as much as I love Billy Eichner, I wasn’t really feeling the chemistry between the actors. It wasn’t that I thought either wasn’t doing a good job in the role. They just never quite had that spark for me. But I agree that the writing was smart and funny, and the movie addresses a lot of things that just wouldn’t apply in a standard heteronormative romcom, which I really appreciate. So, what’s something this movie does well that authors can use in their writing?
Carly: Romance structure. So romance is one of those genres that has a lot of conventions that shouldn’t be messed with. And if you do mess with them, you have to do it with intention (hey our favorite word!). You can only do that with intention if you know the conventions first. Anyway, romance structure or romance beats are very unique to the genre. They are honestly a perfect formula for making the romantic journey compelling. But most importantly, they make the relationship feel earned. That is the most important thing in a romance novel, the characters need to earn the relationship, they need to work for it and struggle for it. And in order to do that, certain moments need to occur. We’ve talked about it a lot before, but romance deals with characters and their Lie really well. That is how they earn the relationship, they grapple with their Lie and overcome it in order to be worthy of the other love interest. They have to overcome their internalized wounds and work to better themselves. Romance novels are really excellent at internal journeys and how they reflect external journeys, and that comes down to the very special structure that they have.
Jeni: Before we get into all the specifics too much, I want to make a distinction between full novels in the romance genre and having romance subplot in a book of another genre. When you’re writing these, there are some similarities in terms of the structure, but it’s important to make sure you’re aware of those differences as well. The biggest difference is going to be the focus of the main plot. In a romance novel, the main plot is always about the characters’ relationship. They will have their own things going on, but it’s always going to come back to how they overcome the obstacles that are keeping them from getting (and staying) together as a couple. So, in this movie, Bobby has his own internal and external obstacles, and so does Aaron. They’re both struggling with their careers, albeit in different ways. Bobby has achieved a fair amount of success but realizes he’s had to sacrifice some aspects of his personal life to get here, and Aaron is in a career he really doesn’t like because… well, really because of internalized homophobia. So while we see each of these storylines throughout the movie, they aren’t the focus. Those storylines are braided and woven into the romance plot. If the romance is a subplot, that will be the other way around. The main plot will focus on other elements, and the romance will weave into that main conflict. This big difference of the focus of the main plot will lead to other differences in the structure of the story. So, the pacing of the plot points may vary somewhat. Sometimes with a romance subplot, for example, the love interest may be introduced quite late in the story. Another big difference is that a romance novel always ends with the main characters together as a couple. It’s truly a rule in romance that if the couple isn’t together, with the idea that they will stay together, the story isn’t really a romance. There’s some pushback about that even within the romance community, but as it stands right now, that’s how it is. However, with a romantic subplot, the relationship may not end with the characters together at all. Or they may be together, but the reader knows it won’t last forever. Or any number of other possibilities. So, yeah, as we’ve mentioned before on other episodes, it’s important to know what you’re writing so you can meet the standards of the genre and age category.
Carly: Okay so let’s start to break down the actual structure. As always, we start with Act 1, because obviously it is the first. That didn’t need to be said. Anyway, you want to start by introducing the MC (main character) & LI (love interest), Even if you have a dual or multi-POV romance, you’re going to have one character that has “main character energy.” They’ll be the one that gets the most attention and the romance seems to circle around. So in this movie, Bobby is clearly the main character and Aaron is the love interest. So we start the book with the main character’s POV (point-of-view). And you want to show their everyday life, This is setting the stage and getting us introduced to and invested in the characters. This is so important because a romance is only really about the characters. You need to like them to like the romance. There aren’t big external plot points that your story can hinge on instead. Readers need to invest in your characters from the start. As we’re introducing the characters you are setting up the external GMC. What is missing in their lives or what are their goals for themselves? For Bobby he wants to open the museum. His goal is clearly to make a difference in the world and show the importance of his history, the LGBTQ+ history. This also hints at his internal GMC. The museum is so important to him because of how his whole life he has been held back, looked over, or told to be less-than who he was. And this is the next step, hinting at the internal GMC. You want to establish the external GMC for both characters. For Aaron it is his general ennui, his dissatisfaction with his life. He’s stuck in a job he hates. Then we get the Meet cute, an often humorous and awkward meeting where the characters are thrown together. If they already know each other this is when they are forced to be around each other more or take stock of their relationship. So for Bobby and Aaron, they meet in a club. And it is veeeery awkward. Bobby tells Aaron that he heard he was “boring” (oh hey he immediately pokes at Aarons emotional wound! How about that?). Then we get the No Way 1, which I find hard to say. This is the reason (or reasons) the MCs think they can’t fall in love with each other. It can be a big external obstacle, but it should also be tied to the internal obstacles (if not entirely based on internal obstacles). So Aaron thinks that Bobby thinks he’s boring and Bobby thinks that he isn’t Aaron’s type, since you know, he sleeps with hotter guys. In this movie it comes at the very end of the meet cute when Bobby wants to go home with Aaron but Aaron chooses to go to the married couple’s place instead of spending more time with Bobby. This sets up the romance arc, Next is the First plot point or the Turning Point. It is the climax of the first act, they can’t turn back now. This plot point really defines the character’s romantic arc. Why they won’t work, but why they want to work. It defines where they are going and we know that there is no going back. So Bobby and Aaron go on a date, but it ends poorly. Bobby being too intense for Aaron and Aaron being too straight. They try to have a group sex thing, but Bobby leaves because he feels like he doesn’t fit in. Okay that’s Act 1 and I’ve talked a while. So I’ll be quiet now.
Jeni: As we move into Act 2, the universe starts challenging the characters even more. Through this portion of the story, we are really going to see a push and pull between what they want and what they believe about themselves. So, something happens that makes them double down on their belief that they simply cannot fall in love with the other character. In this movie, we actually see that come through in a conversation between Bobby and his friend, where Bobby literally tries to convince her that the new relationship will never work, and then Aaron struggles with comparing himself and his comfortability with his sexual identity. But spending more time begins to attack the characters’ false beliefs. Again, through the time they spend together, they see glimpses of who the person really is, as opposed to only their first impressions, and it deepens their desire. That brings us to the midpoint, where they start to believe it can all work out, despite their differences. In the movie, that’s when they go out of town together and Aaron shows Bobby this whole other side of himself, Bobby confesses about his own internal obstacles, and they reach new levels of their intimacy. Unfortunately for the couple, it can’t last long, and the midpoint proves to be a false high. Again, it’s that push and pull between wanting something more but knowing it means they have to be willing to do some work on their own perceptions and face things they’d really rather not face. If you think of this as being like a plot graph with the wiggly lines, you want the conflict and tension (what the wiggly line represents) to reflect that push and pull. It would show these peaks of tension during the parts where the characters are doubting themselves and then have these little valleys where the characters are happy and thinking maybe it can work out. Another thing I want to note is that, as I mentioned before, you have to make sure you’re still weaving the other storylines in so these elements are only reflecting the romance plot.
Carly: Next we have Act 2B (or as I like to call it, Act 3 and then I call Act 3 Act 4, but hey, who am I to change ridiculous terms that have been taught in school for a long time).:Act 2B is all about life reinforcing their doubts Life is going to keep showing them that things aren’t going to work out, but at the beginning of this act, they persevere. This shows up at the holiday party that they throw where Aaron’s old high school crush shows up and they have another group sex thing. This happens because of both of their insecurities and their internalized conflicts. Bobby agrees but regrets it. They are pushing through their differences. So life throws more at them to poke at those insecurities. Because we can’t let them be happy yet. They haven’t earned it or worked through their internal GMC. They haven’t faced their Lie yet. Enter Aaron’s family. The characters then lay it all on the line and say what they feel, just before everything they feared actually happens. This is the big moment of honesty. What are they scared of and what can they confess to each other? Bobby thinks that he isn’t Aaron’s type, and Aaron grapples with his own identity and what being gay means to him. And then Bobby meets Aaron’s family. This is perfectly executed to poke at both of their wounds. Bobby cares so much about LGBTQ+ history and what it means to people. He wants to meet the parents and fully be himself. And Aaron says the worst thing ever, he tells him to be less of himself. Aaron does this because he is still grappling with his identity and who he is. So we’re stabbing at both of their wounds because their GMC conflicts with each other. Because of this moment of honesty and the poking of their wounds, your characters’ doubts come back even stronger, and they believe they can’t overcome them now and they often break up. Enter the darkest moment or the dark night of the soul or the all-is-lost moment. This moment bridges the gap between Act 2B and Act 3. This is where… all seems lost. They’ve broken up and can’t push through their differences. The characters believe there is no hope. Bobby and Aaron have a big fight where they say hurtful things to each other. And worst of all, Bobby chases after Aaron, only to find him kissing his high-school crush. This is everything Bobby feared. And Aaron saw everything he feared most when Bobby was fully out and proud to his parents. They both see their wounds in each other. Each character perfectly represents everything they are afraid of.
Jeni: In this movie, Act 3 does find our characters broken up–but they’re still thinking about each other. The beginning of Act 3 is sort of the test phase for our characters: they see that they can live without the other person, but they also see the ways the other person made their life better. We almost start to see a reversal of what happened earlier in the story. All this time, they’ve been fighting back their insecurities and internal conflict, and the dark moment happens because the insecurities temporarily won. But now, through seeing how the person made their life better and that now being gone, they’re seeing that they were right to believe it could work–if only they can be strong enough to take the risk of overcoming their fear. So as they go through this portion, we are seeing the other ways they choose love and risk in their lives. Bobby makes some important apologies and admits that he was wrong about some things–something he doesn’t really do ever haha. This is the area where Aaron quits his job and takes a risk on his dream career. What we are really seeing here is that the time the characters spent together has made a lasting impact. It’s challenged them both to look inward and grow, and they’re seeing that it’s made them more of who they want to be and that they’re capable of facing the fears in the other areas of their lives. This feeling builds some momentum until the character has the courage to try to make amends with the other character. This is where we get a grand gesture and some of the greatest moments in romance history. Showing up at the airport just before the plane takes off. Or holding up the boombox outside the window. Or like, walking through the moors in the rain to propose. This is the moment where the couple has to decide if they’re brave enough to commit and will often take place in a scene that brings the other storylines together as well. It’s the climax of the story. In the movie, Bobby sings a song he wrote for Aaron and then asks for a second chance. The final scene shows how good everything is. This is after the couple reconciles and often takes place as a sort of epilogue. This is when the reader gets all the satisfaction of seeing how the couple has come together and overcome the worst of their obstacles to make things work.
Carly: Okay so a lot of critics of romance novels say they are too formulaic, that it is boring. But now I’m going to explain to you why they are wrong. Yes, we just spent a long time spelling out all the different romance beats, and stressing that you need to get them right. But none of that is a bad thing. So here comes my rant because I love romance novels: first of all, all fiction is structured. If you think you aren’t reading something that is structured like this, you’d be wrong. I’m going to give the caveat of literary fiction here, but even so it has its own conventions and structures. Think of Hero and Heroine’s Journeys in fantasy novels, those are pretty stringent structures. And don’t even get me started on mystery novels. Those have an extremely rigid structure, so go listen to our episode on Knives Out. Stories are about the journey, not the ending. I am very rarely surprised by an ending. And that’s okay, good even. Because the ending isn’t what is important, it is everything that comes before it. It doesn’t matter if I know they will end up together, what matters is how they fight and grow to be together. At the end of the day, it is the characters and the writer’’s ingenuity and creativity that makes each story unique. There are infinite ways of approaching each plot point because this is a framework, a structure. There are so many ways to do them. And also, because romance is so structured, it is even harder to write because you have to get all of these plot points just right. So it isn’t and “easy” genre because of the formula, it is actually more difficult. Okay end rant.
This normally would bring us to our query critique portion of the show. But we’re reworking some things and will no longer be doing query critiques. Instead we’ll be bringing you more content and goodies!