I saw the movie Life As We Know It starring Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel and I have to say I really liked it.
I have a soft spot for romantic comedies to begin with but this exceeded my expectations. Sure there were a few story elements you could have guessed up front but even those weren't wrapped up quite as nice and neat as many other movies in this genre. There were certainly roadblocks to overcome regarding the characters' personal and professional goals in addition to a huge learning curve of raising their best friends' child while also grieving their death. On top of that, there is the constant reminder of what's been lost.
The movie's beginning was certainly it's most formulaic and at first glance the characters seemed over simplified but both Heigl and Duhamel quickly recovered and thus I found this initial violation forgiveable. As the storyline progressed, the audience wants to cheer them on as they struggle to determine what's best for themselves, for their new daughter Sophie, as well as coming to terms--and even embracing--the fact that their lives have become something altogether different than they expected or even had hoped.
Here's a peak at the trailer:
The more I thought about this movie over the last couple of days, the more I realized how many lessons there are for creating a story that works. This also reminded me how important it is for writers to take a step back from the stories we love to ask ourselves why we love it and why it works. So I created the top 10 reasons why, I believe, this story was a success.
1. There were believable, likable characters.
2. The dialogue felt natural.
3. There was conflict on all levels (internally for the characters and between the characters).
4. There were obstacles blocking the characters from what they wanted at numerous points in the storyline, forcing them to reveal their true personality.
5. There was a quirky, complementary group of supporting characters.
6. There was comedic relief to balance the more serious undertones of the film.
7. The characters had chemistry--a vital ingredient for any romance.
8. There were balanced rises and falls in action.
9. The characters evolve in the film, revealing what they value most at the point of the story's climax.
10. There's an adorable, little baby (oh, yeah and pretty good-looking protagonists). In my opinion, that never hurt anyone...especially in a romantic comedy.
This, of course, isn't an exhaustive checklist that every story needs but it's a good starting off point. And if there are other key elements to a good story that come to mind I invite you to include it in the comments so we can add it to the collective list.