It’s snowing in Idaho today, which is very appropriate for the release of A Christmas Romance Collection. The book set offers six romance novels that take place during the holidays, including my novel optioned for film, Finding Love in Big Sky, or, as the producer renamed it, Starlight Christmas. My book is also being recorded for audible, so I’m currently listening to it, and as I do so, I wonder, does it have what it takes to become a Hallmark Christmas movie? I started looking up formulas for Hallmark to find out.
First, I found A Christmas for Christmas YouTube spoof. Him: I had a crush on you in high school. Her: Yeah, but now you are good looking.
There’s the classic faux promo from Saturday Night Live with James Franco. “It’s quantity over quality, people.”
And my agent sent me this one from a TikTok star. “I don’t have time for love. I do working.”
Those all gave me a good laugh, but I wanted to know what viewers really think. I asked my Facebook friends how they would describe the formula for a Hallmark movie.
Luella: Business woman goes home to her small town. Reconnects with high school sweetheart. Falls in love. Gives up promotion. Stays with high school sweetheart, lives happily ever after.
Let’s see if my story fits her formula…
Business woman goes home. (I have a businessman. We’ll call that close enough.) Check.
Small town. (Montana ski resort town.) Check
Reconnects with high school sweetheart. Check
Falls in love. Check
Gives up promotion. (My businessman does.) Check
Stays with high school sweetheart. Check
Cate: Boy meets girl, with a kid, a pet, a snowball fight, loses girl, epiphany and gets girl back.
We already know a boy meets a girl in my book. Do I have a kid? No. (I have two old ladies who run a coffee shop. I feel like this should be an acceptable alternative, but I’ll play by Cate’s rules and not check it off.)
Pet. The horses are the same breed as Sitron in Frozen. Check.
A Snowball fight. Check
Loses girl. Check.
Epiphany and gets girl back. (She has the epiphany, not him, but that’s basically the same thing.) Check.
Enemies to lovers. Check
Second chance high school romance. Check.
As Rachel said, these are her least favorite tropes, so I’m glad her book came out before my movie. But I’m still hoping the director and actors do a good enough job to be worthy of a Rachel Gush.
Obviously, Hallmark movies are formulaic, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. People watch these movies because they know what they’re going to get. The audience knows they’ll feel good in the end, and they know it offers holiday magic to put them in a festive spirit.
A friend of mine was working on a script for a producer, and the producer kept having her take out conflict and complications. It frustrated my friend, but the producer explained that women watch Hallmark movies while baking cookies and wrapping presents. The stories need to be simple enough to follow along with while viewers are engaged in their own Christmas activities. And this formula is working for them.
I’m not personally big on formulas, but they force a writer to get creative within the box. I had to ask myself, “How can I make this formulaic story unique and feel real?” So I’ll leave you with my hero’s backstory, which actually comes from a true life event.
When my dad was a kid, he asked for a horse for Christmas. He woke up Christmas morning to find a horse on his front lawn. He was thrilled, but his parents were not. This was someone else’s horse that had gotten loose and had to be returned. In that moment Dad, and my hero, stopped believing in Santa.
(As for the Santa and Mrs. Claus pictured above, that’s my husband and I. When a child asked if he was really Santa, I said, “Well, he is my husband.)
I hope you still believe in magic this holiday season. And I hope you find the beauty in it all, including Hallmark Christmas movies.
Share your own Hallmark Christmas formula for a chance to win an audible download of Finding Love in Big Sky.