Wednesday, December 25, 2019

What I Learned about Hallmark Christmas Movies by Cheryl Bolen


Over a year ago I was asked to be the lead author in a Christmas anthology scheduled for 2019. Since this compilation was going to have broad exposure, I wanted to ensure my story was as good as it could be. I really angsted over it. I’d written quite a few Christmas novellas, and several had won awards. I wanted this one to be better than any I’d done before. 



But I was fresh out of ideas for warm, heart-melting Christmas stories. So I thought I’d start watching Christmas movies on the Hallmark channel for inspiration. Right here I must give thanks to my patient husband for allowing this. You see, like most men, he doesn’t really enjoy this style of chick flick, but he indulged me all in the name of research. Oh, there was a lot of eye rolling and yawning on his part, but his complaints were of the mild variety.

With few exceptions, I found that these movies fit a pattern. They are set in small, rural towns. And these towns all had a commonality in that everyone in these towns is so welcoming and loving. And racial diversity is always depicted in these settings, too.

In most cases, the hero or heroine is an outsider who ends up spending Christmas in this town—an occurrence that comes about not from a conscious decision but from an unforeseen development. Instead of feeling like an outsider, though, the newcomer is showered with good, ol’ down-home hospitality from these warm townspeople (and especially the person who becomes the love interest).

There is usually a small subplot that may explain why the hero or heroine has come to the town, and oftentimes this has some connection to the town’s Christmas festival. A lot of the time there is a Christmas tree lighting ceremony, and this always involves a countdown! 

The best of these shows will have a genuine conflict; the worst have none at all. Few of the stories are memorable.  The one that was the most memorable was one in which the heroine, a single mother, had a lot of challenges which touched the viewers’ emotions. In addition to connecting with the hero, she connected with a grandmotherly woman who helped her. While the romantic escalation was expected, there was a bonus surprise that had to do with a backstory involving the grandmotherly character and provided an immensely satisfying ending.

As to the romance in these tales, there’s always a scene where they’re discovering a bond between them and move toward each other for an embrace or kiss, but this is always interrupted! That’s because the hero and heroine can’t kiss until the final scene. In each show, the last shot is reserved for that longed-for embrace and a nice long smooch where the cameras do a long fade away to let us know our hero and heroine have at last found their happily ever after.

It was worth it to watch all these shows for that one kernel which provided a small spark to get the creative juices flowing to my brain. The end result was my story titled One Room at the Inn in our Winter Wishes anthology. It's now my favorite of the nine Christmas novellas I've written. The collection landed in a respectable position on the USA Today bestseller list, garnered good reviews, and was selected by one blog as the best Christmas book of 2019!

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14 comments:

  1. Great post, Cheryl! Congratulations on this wonderful Christmas release! Must admit...I'm hooked by your novella title and teaser on Amazon. :D I've watched some Hallmark movies with Mr. H. He says, "There's always a tree lighting and fake snow." And he's right! But, the good ones can certainly warm your heart and provide a much needed break during the crazy-busy holiday season. Merry Christmas!

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  2. So your Mr. H. indulges you, too! Merry Christmas, Kathryn.

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  3. Sounds like a wonderful anthology. Isn't it great to keep challenging ourselves as authors?

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    1. And writing never gets easier. You'd think after 41 books I wouldn't need to go hunt for inspiration, but it's a tough business, isn't it, Kathleen?

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  4. Wonderful use of Hallmark movies for inspiration!

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    1. I did have to watch A LOT before inspiration came, Kari!

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  5. Cheryl what a great story! And shows how a woman with a plan is a success.

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  6. I have noticed the Hallmark movies all do have the same pattern, to the point that it becomes a bit predictable...The heroine goes back to her home town to settle her late aunt's estate, meets up with either her old high school sweetheart or the handsome neighbor, they develop an interest in each other. When later in the show they almost kiss, someone walks in or the doorbell rings and they don't get to the kiss. At 15 minutes before the end of the show, she sees him hugging some other woman or overhears only part of a conversation and gets the wrong impression that he is no longer interested, so she leaves, but at 5 minutes to the end they figure it all out.

    The thing that annoys me most is the fake snow Hallmark uses. And it is "snowing" even in bright sunshine! And during the snowing scenes, only rarely does any of the snow fall on the speaking characters, and if it does, when the camera changes, the snow is moved or gone.

    That being said, I watch them all! :oD

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    1. They do become a bit addictive, Martha, even though they're so predictable! And, man, you've nailed it!

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  7. Congratulations, Cheryl. I agree with Martha about the fake snow. I still watch the movies and enjoy most of them.

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    1. Well, Caroline, I'm going to miss these movies when they take them away. Soon.

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  8. I hope that everyone had a great Christmas! 🎅🎄🎁

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  9. I have my favorites that I eagerly watch every Christmas. It's one of my traditions I guess. *g*

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  10. Anything with a little snow, a little love conflict, but a HEA is fine with me. I watch all sappy Christmas movies during the season and hate to see them go. Happy New Year to all.

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