This week, I’m breaking down a popular romantic comedy from twenty years ago that nails it when it comes to story structure! LEGALLY BLONDE
How Legally Blonde Does it Perfectly!
When this film came out I lived with a roommate, whom I’m still friends with so I mean her no disrespect here but she was like, “ugh, so stupid, who would go see that?” and I replied, “I saw it and it’s really good” and then I explained why. She still wasn’t interested in it but that was part of her “I’m too cool to watch and like anything commercial” vibe but she did listen.
It’s not just that I liked, well LOVED, Legally Blonde, it’s that they got it right from the opening act to the end, it’s spot on and why I am using it today to show you how to create the perfect story structure–if you are writing romantic comedies this is especially a great example but even if you aren’t, the principles work for you!
In romantic comedies, there are traditionally 7 story beats or arcs.
- Setup / promise of the story
- Inciting incident
- Turning point
- Midpoint / Raising the stakes
- Swivel: second turning point
- Dark moment / crisis
- Joyful defeat / resolution
Let’s go over Legally Blonde now.
I also want to note that one of the main reasons that Legally Blonde works is that in the very beginning the writers show us that Elle is actually smart. There is a scene at a snooty store in Beverly Hills where two sales ladies decide that Elle is a ditz with a credit card but she puts them in their place with her knowledge of design, the designer, the fabric, the tailoring, and they shut up.
That was brilliant and made the entire rest of the story believable. If they had kept her as some stupid blonde, her getting into Harvard never would have been believable.
Here are the seven beats in traditional romantic comedies!
1. Setup/Promise of the story– We meet Elle and find out that she is graduating from undergrad and is expecting a proposal from her boyfriend, Warren. We learn that she wants to marry him. That is her goal.
2. Inciting incident-he breaks up with her so she decides to go to law school to get him back/get back together
3. New world-turning point-she attends Harvard
4. Midpoint/mirror moment/recommitment-Warren tells her that she’s not smart enough, so she changes her focus realizing that she’ll never be good enough
5. Swivel-next turning point-she is chosen to help with a real trial where she knows the defendant and holds her ground on the alibi
6. Dark Moment/Crisis-her professor hits on her and she gives up believing that no one will ever take her seriously because she is pretty and that’s all they see.
7. Resolution-she goes back into court with the help of a guy she meets (this is the 2nd storyline BTW) and wins the case for her defendant
In your writing, you want to make sure to have these plot arcs or beats. It’s important to use the story structure formats that we all know because they work. If you have been faced with rejection of any kind-even from critique partners, or are getting feedback that your story is flat, rewriting out the beats will help you get it into shape! I promise
Legally Blonde is on Netflix now, so your homework is to go watch it and look for these moments.
Legally Blonde written by Karen McCullah & Kirsten Smith (screenplay) and Amanda Brown (novel) 2001
I have a new FREE pdf workbook that you can grab here on writing swoon-worthy romantic comedies
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