Sassy romance with a dose of new release alerts and book recommendations.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

3 Romance Writing Lessons from Korean Dramas


Korean dramas lure you in with seemingly simple premises, pretty boys, and hard-working but “plain” heroines you can relate to.

You tell yourself you’re only going to watch one episode, but emerge hours later looking like one of the undead. Before you know it, you’re telling your friends you’re busy on weekends, so you can stay for a marathon.

In case you couldn’t tell by this point, I have a serious addiction to Korean dramas. I also happen to be a writer.

With those two traits combined, I often find myself overanalyzing my favorite Korean dramas in search of ways to further improve my writing. Why did the friends-turned-lovers trope works so well in Weightlifting Fairy: Kim Bok Joo? What was so great about Yoo Si Jin from Descendants of the Sun? Most importantly, why is Nam Joo Hyuk so HOT?!?!?!

Now that we have that out of the way, let me share some of the things I’ve learned about writing romance from Korean dramas.

MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD. You’ve been warned.


1. You can find ways to make clichés feel fresh.

If you’ve been watching Korean dramas for a while, you’ll notice several clichés that pop up quite often. The hero giving the heroine a piggyback ride because she’s too drunk to walk. The characters sleeping in one bed because there are no other beds available. You get the gist.

However, even if they’re clichés, it doesn’t mean you can’t find new ways to subvert them and make them feel fresh.

Example:

In Bring It On, Ghost, the main couple goes on a super romantic date. They do things we’ve all seen before like share an umbrella in the rain, pick out hair accessories for each other, etc. The twist? The girl’s actually a ghost, and the guy’s the only one who can see her.

We’re later shown scenes of the male protagonist seemingly talking to himself. The saddest scene is, the one where he lets the ghost female protagonist use most of the umbrella, letting himself get soaked in the process. We see people giving him strange looks and whispering to each other that he must be crazy. Suddenly, every little thing they did on their date becomes so much more meaningful.

The date wasn’t just a date. It was his declaration that he didn’t care if the whole world thought he was crazy. He loved her that much. SWOON.

2. You don’t always have to hate the 2nd female lead.

Remember those days in Korean dramas when the bitchy 2nd lead was everywhere? She was often the ex-girlfriend who dumped the guy for selfish reasons, changed her mind, and pitched a fit when she found out he was happy with someone new.

Drama ensued, because if she couldn’t have him, no one else could. Her actions sometimes ventured into psychopath territory depending on how melodramatic the drama was.

I’d like to think those days are over, and so far, the recent dramas I’ve been watching have proven me right.

The 2nd female lead is a character who will most likely never disappear from Korean dramas, but I’m glad to see she’s evolving. She has a rich backstory, goals, and problems that have nothing to do with the male lead. Sure, she might want the guy back, but her entire existence doesn’t revolve around him, you know?

Example:

In the first quarter (maybe even first half) of Weightlifting Fairy: Kim Bok Joo, Si Ho seems like your typical 2nd female lead. She dumped Joon Hyung when she thought he was distracting her from gymnastics and tried to get him back when she failed to become the successful gymnast she always thought she’d be. Hateful, I know.


But you can see Si Ho’s entire world crashing down around her, and you understand why she’s trying so hard to hold on to him. Her parents consider her their prize-winning athlete, not their daughter. Her coach is horrible to her. She has no friends, no support system.

Her lack of support doesn’t excuse her actions in the drama, but you understand why she’s doing the things she does, even if you don’t condone her choices. Despite her refusal to let go of Joon Hyung, she was still her own person—with goals and concerns that had nothing to do with him.

3. Grand gestures are great and all, but it’s the little things that matter.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all about the grand gestures. The declarations of love on top of the Empire State Building. The moment you flip open a magazine and find an article written by the girl who broke your heart and realize it’s about YOU.

But as we see these grand gestures unfold onscreen, we often find ourselves thinking those gestures only happen in the movies. There’s no way something like that would happen in real life. To us.


That’s why I find the not so grand gestures so appealing. They give Korean dramas a sense of reality that nothing else can. They make us think that, hey, something like this can happen in real life. To us. They give us hope.

Example:

In Oh Hae Young Again, Hae Young and Do Kyung are neighbors with a tiny wooden door connecting their apartments. When a delivery guy starts asking suspicious questions about whether Hae Young lives alone or not, Do Kyung gets all protective in the simplest of ways. He leaves a pair of his shoes by her door to make people think someone lives with her.

Who knew a pair of shoes could ever be so romantic? I couldn’t blame Hae Young for getting a silly grin on her face.

In Conclusion

Okay, you caught me.

I wrote this entire post to justify the number of hours I spend watching Korean dramas.

On a more serious note it's interesting to analyze how one storytelling medium can influence another. You never know what you'll learn about your craft. Who knows? You might find the answer to that niggling plot problem after downing some soju.

1 comment

  1. Re: You don’t always have to hate the 2nd female lead - Oh I so agree with this! And I love K-dramas that utilize this plot point. Sometimes, a love triangle isn't the only thing that makes a story compelling.

    ReplyDelete

© Clarisse David
Maira Gall