Book Writing AdviceBook, Writing, Advice
ServiceScape Incorporated
ServiceScape Incorporated
2020

How to Write a Holiday Romance Story That Warms Your Readers' Hearts

GrammarMaven

' Tis the season—for holidays romances, that is! As we move into the Christmas and Hanukkah season, TV and streaming services become rife with holiday movies. The publishing world is no different—now's the time of year when readers scour their favorite book provider for the latest holiday romance to warm their hearts and bring on some holiday cheer.

The holiday season has long since been viewed as a season for lovers. There's something terribly romantic about the season in general, and readers seek out holiday romances in particular. Readers want feel-good stories with happy endings, knowing that the spirit of the holidays has helped move the romance along.

Generally speaking, the holiday romance novels that do the best are the ones that most closely mirror the story type and flow of arguably the titan of holiday romances—Hallmark. That is, these romances are generally sweet (no sex or profanity), light-hearted, have easily resolvable conflicts, are set in snowy locales, and have plenty of emotional punch to tug at the heartstrings.

Let's take a look at these elements and others in closer detail.

Choose your holiday

The season of "holidays" can mean many different holidays, so choose one that interests you. Whether you decide to write about Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or something else, make sure you understand what the holiday is about and its associated traditions. You don't necessarily have to celebrate the holiday you're writing about, but do be sure you do the proper research to make sure you're writing about it accurately. For instance, if you're writing about Hanukkah, you probably wouldn't have a scene where your characters are decorating a Christmas tree (unless maybe they're helping out their friends who do celebrate Christmas).

You may also want to research the popularity of certain holidays over others. Christmas is, of course, "evergreen" (pun intended) as far as holiday romances go, but with a surge in interest in reading #ownvoices and underrepresented stories, writing a holiday romance featuring characters who celebrate non-Christmas holidays is a great idea to consider.

Whichever holiday you decide to choose, and whether you choose to integrate the holiday into the storyline in a significant way or feature it as the story's backdrop, research it and write it well and with care and sensitivity.

Choose your trope

With romance, certain tropes—a popular theme or storytelling device—are always a hit with readers. Some prevalent ones include friends-to-lovers, enemies-to-lovers, second chance, instant love (or "instalove"), single parent, sibling's best friend, small-town, and age gap, to name only a few. A surefire way to know that your holiday romance will be at the top of readers' TBR piles is to choose a popular trope and marry it with a holiday background. For example, perhaps two former high school sweethearts lost touch during college and rediscover each other when they both return to their small town for the holidays. Or perhaps two department store employees strike up a friendship, and the holiday season in the big city brings them closer together. Maybe a high-powered corporate exec falls for a blue-collar single dad. You can find a bunch of other tropes within our holidays romance writing prompts.

Location, location, location

Typically, the holiday season brings to mind snowy locales, full of brightly pine trees and chilly temperatures. What could be more romantic than bundling up and cuddling in close with your crush or loved one? Consider scouting some lovely, snowy locations for the setting of your story. It can be in a real place or inspired by one—but make sure the weather is frightful enough to make your lovers snuggle up to stay warm.

Craft your meet-cute

An essential part of any romance is the way the two main characters—the lovers—meet. In romance, especially holiday romance, the cuter, the better. Maybe the heroine is the mother of a young child, and the child's class has a substitute teacher—who just so happens to be the hero she falls for. Or maybe, the hero's a single dad looking for that one special toy for Christmas for his kid, and the very last one in the city is inside a tiny shop owned by the heroine. Perhaps one hero is a postal worker and delivers mail to another hero's home. Then, oops! There's a big snowstorm, making travel unsafe.

Let your sense of romance take over. Readers of holiday romance are readily willing to suspend their belief, so don't be afraid to go wild, even if the meet-cute seems like a stretch. The holidays are the perfect time to believe in the unbelievable, especially when the promise is romance!

Set your heat level

This is an important one, and it will require some careful consideration. How steamy do you want to go in your holiday romance? There are equally large markets for steamy romance and sweet romance (no explicit scenes on the page). The crucial first step to take is understanding the differences in heat level. There are some overlapping definitions, but in general, steamy romance includes one or two detailed sex scenes that occur on the page. The difference between steamy romance and erotic romance is the plot—is it focused on the development of the romance between the two characters, and are the love scenes a device to heighten that emotional bond? Then you've probably got a steamy romance on your hands. Is the plot focused on the love scenes with little to no emphasis on the romance? Then you've probably got erotica.

Studying the market is usually a good idea to get a feel of what you'd like to write. Again referencing Hallmark holiday movies' popularity, you can be sure that sweet romances with no steam or swearing will be well received. Sweet romance means there are no sex scenes, and the physical affection between the characters doesn't go beyond kissing. Most publishers seeking holiday romances are also clear about desiring sweet romance as well—this has the broadest appeal among readers, and many fans of steamy romance will happily read sweet romance as well (although there's not as much crossover the other way around).

Make your conflicts easily resolvable

The holiday season is one of lightheartedness, where people generally like to be kinder to one another than they might be throughout the rest of the year. Themes of peace on Earth and goodwill toward other humans are significant during this time of year, and they're often reflected in holiday romances. Readers usually don't prefer to deal with heavy conflicts in their holiday romances, as they're typically looking for a feel-good escape (there are, of course, exceptions to this, and it's by no means a rule, rather an observation of the holiday romances that tend to dominate the market).

That said, conflicts drive the plot, which drives the story! Think about conflicts that aren't too heavy that can be easily resolved. Misunderstandings and miscommunications are usually good ones to consider. Whatever you decide, try to keep it on the lighter side of things.

Meet those holiday expectations

Part of the joy of the holiday season resides in the commonly held traditions therein. They're familiar, festive, and generally comforting. Going back to our first tip of choosing the right holiday and researching those traditions and traits, you'll want to be sure you're incorporating enough to keep that sense of the season high throughout the story. For instance, in Christmas romance novels, you'll probably want to make sure at least one—more is better—of the following makes an appearance in your story: Christmas tree decorating, gift-wrapping, caroling, ice skating. Bonus points for a Santa sighting and a town Christmas party!

Emotional impact

The holiday season is a time of love, friendship, family, and forgiveness. Consider the emotional themes you want to put in your story and make sure you deliver on them. For instance, if your story concerns a heroine who's spent every Christmas alone, she should end the story with a new family—that of her lover's, or the friends she's made along the way. If you're writing about a military vet who's been deployed for the past five Christmases, perhaps in your story, he finally gets to go home and be with his parents. An underprivileged child might get the chance to receive their most desired gift, or maybe a lonely, recently divorced hero finally finds the person he can open his heart to. You can take your story in so many directions—just be sure the emotional payoff is there.

The happily-ever-after (HEA)

And once that emotional payoff is reached—you can roll right into your HEA, or happily-ever-after. The HEA is critical in romance—some would say it is the story element that makes a romance a true romance. At the end of your story, the reader wants to know the lovers have finally reached their true pinnacle of happiness and are settling in for a long, happy life together. For bonus points, consider dropping in an epilogue at the end of the story, set some time in the future, to give your readers a peek at how the lovers are doing.

The holiday season can be so inspiring to both readers and writers alike. So soak in the festive, happy spirit, put your romance writer hat on, and write that next beautiful holiday romance that will have your readers reaching for it again and again, every single year! Happy writing!

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