A Year to Publication Column: Writing a Holiday Romance by Jennifer Snow

Love, Lies & Mistletoe by Jennifer SnowLet’s welcome back monthly columnist Jennifer Snow as she shares with us “A Year to Publication: Writing a Holiday Romance.” Enjoy!


Beautifully crafted holiday romance stories have always been my favourite novels to read: not only during the holiday season, but all year round. I’ve discovered that I’m not alone. Readers worldwide enjoy ‘love under the mistletoe’ stories that evoke sincere emotions and reflect family, heart and home. As writers, we play a part in enhancing the holidays for our readers by taking elements that may not be as magical in real life and making them sparkle on the pages. For example, take snow. Put the cold, wet, often dirty and slushy, inconvenience that lasted far too long this winter in a holiday story and it transforms into big, soft, beautiful flakes falling peacefully outside the window as the hero and heroine snuggle by a warm fire. Snow is romanticized to create the vision of a holiday that we would all love to experience. This romanticizing of elements is at the core of the entire holiday romance novel. Despite the often conflicting tumultuous or heart-wrenching storylines, or the heat level, or the sub-genre of romance, the writer must evoke an overall heartwarming feeling in the reader to have a successful holiday-themed story that resonates with readers.

The three S’s of the Holiday Romance

The three S’s of the holiday romance-the sights, sounds, and smells are important to create a backdrop for the setting. It is important to include seasonal references throughout the novel, in every scene if possible, to surround the reader with these holiday stimuli. They are the primary step in creating that heartwarming feel that is expected from these kinds of novels. However, it’s not enough to set a story during the season and describe the usual sights, sounds and smells. While these elements are important to any holiday story, they need to create the emotions that readers feel during the season to be effective.

The Mistletoe Melody by Jennifer SnowSights such as lights, holly, mistletoe and decorated evergreens bring back personal memories for the readers. They associate these familiar elements with their own holiday preparations and it helps to create a common world shared between the reader and the characters in the story. The character’s holiday décor, however small an element, is still a powerful one in bringing the reader into the story. How the character reacts to the sights is what will help create the mood and tone for the story. A character who loves the holiday season and is looking forward to it will react much differently to the sight of coloured lights on the street poles immediately after Halloween than a character who is dreading the upcoming season or who views the holiday as just another way for stores to make money.

Sounds such as ringing bells, sacred music, holiday classics, or the pitter patter of horse shoes on the ground as the characters enjoy a romantic horse-drawn sleigh ride help to bring a scene to life. It places the reader firmly in that sleigh ride or on that corner street where the Salvation Army Santa volunteers ring their bells. Having a Christmas music soundtrack occurring in the background, whether its music playing in a mall or the character’s car stereo, adds another layer of dimension and are an effective tool for characterization. For example, someone away from home during the holidays will react differently to hearing the song I’ll be Home for Christmas than someone who is forced to spend the holidays with their family. In the first scenario, the character may feel a longing for home or the loneliness that the season can evoke, and in the second, they may experience the song as a mere taunting of their situation.

Smells are probably the most under-utilized and by far some of the most effective ways to enhance setting. Candle manufacturers capitalize on the feelings evoked by certain scents during the season and so should writers. Regular lattes should become cinnamon spiced and a family holiday meal scene is never complete without the scent of gingerbread cookies or pumpkin pies baking in the oven. While real trees may not be as popular in real life any more, they are a great addition to our stories. The scent of pine filling the home is one many people remember from their childhood. In addition to the terrific smell of the live tree, there are countless scene ideas that can develop from the use of one.


Cute couple in warm clothing holding hands on a chilly day

The Holiday Plays a Part in the Storyline

For a holiday story to have the most impact on readers, that the time of year needs to impact the plot. Something about the holiday season needs to bring the main characters together and there are many plotlines that work well, each evoking a different response from readers. Some of these classic plotlines include the breakup before the holidays and the inevitable attempts at being set up with someone new, or the desperate need to spend the holidays alone. The idea of a secret Santa crush, the child who wishes for a spouse for their lonely parent or the twelve days of Christmas theme. Other more common tropes that can be incorporated into holiday titles include mistaken identity or trapped together for the holidays. No matter which story writers choose to tell, the holiday elements will transform it.

Feet in wool socks warming by cozy fire

After choosing a theme for the story, we have to decide on our characters and how they feel about the season. Do they love the holidays and want to spend it surrounded by family and friends, only to have their plans derailed for some unexpected reason, creating an urgency in them to get home in time for Christmas Eve? Or do they dread the holidays because of bad memories associated with the season or the inevitable feelings of loneliness if they are unable to spend it with the ones they love? Or maybe the character simply feels that the holiday is a commercial racket and prefers to ignore the festivities altogether.

Your character’s viewpoint will help determine the feelings you aim to achieve in the reader. For example, if the main character dislikes the holiday, they are sure to notice the commercialistic side and the tackiness of overdone decorating. They will push aside the tempting baked goods, claiming the season isn’t an excuse to gain weight, etc. If, on the other hand, your character loves the season, they will see all of those things in a favorable way.

Holiday romances contain certain parameters that are helpful in structuring the story. The specific timeline, for one, is useful in that the journey usually begins sometime after Thanksgiving or December 1st and concludes typically on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day or New Years. This familiar timeline provides a framework for the story and gives both the author and the reader comfort, knowing the happily-ever-after is simply weeks away. The urgency of the upcoming holiday also creates a driving motivation for the characters to resolve their issues in time for their desired mistletoe kiss.

Secondary characters role in the Holiday Romance

The wise, meddling grandmother or the precious match-making child enrich the plot with even more heartwarming moments. The secondary characters that appear in these novels tend to be those that resonate with readers: parents, close friends, co-workers all provide a familiar support system that readers can identify with in their own lives. Often these characters play a role in helping the hero and heroine realize their love for one another and they encourage the union. Or sometimes they are the antagonist, keeping the two apart. Whatever their role and purpose in the story, secondary characters add a sense of realism and new twists to every plot.

Hands in red gloves holding snow heart

80 Degrees and No Snow in Sight

With the publishing industry cycles, holiday title deadlines for submission usually occurs in the early spring and revisions are completed throughout spring and summer, so how do we write holiday novels in the middle of July? Surrounding ourselves with holiday spirit certainly helps. Everything from festive screen savers, to Christmas music playing can be inspiring and help create the mood we are trying to capture. Close the blinds to block out the view of the sun and crank up the AC, forcing you to wear a sweater or enjoy a cup of warm hot cocoa.

Looking at photos from the season or sorting through decorations that you’ve stored can also help bring the season to the forefront of your mind. On my personal bookshelf, there is no shortage of wonderful holiday romance novels that I can re-read to help evoke the necessary emotions that help inspire me when the hot sun is suggesting a beach frolic romance instead.

Writing the holiday romance has to be an emotional ride for the author in order for it to resonate with readers. Readers love romance stories because they are uplifting and the promise of Happily Ever After on the final pages provides comfort and hope. The holiday romance adds another layer to the magic as the reader connects and identifies with the stress, the struggles, and then the love and happiness that the season brings. The above techniques for writing a Christmas romance can also be applied and used effectively for stories set during other seasons as well.



Jennier Snow

Jennifer Snow  lives in Edmonton, Alberta with her husband and four year old son. She is a member of the Writers Guild of Alberta, the Romance Writers of America, the Canadian Author Association, and SheWrites.org. She is also a regular blogger on the Heartwarming Authors site and is a contributing author to Mslexia Magazine, WestWord Magazine and RWR. She has also taught RWA Chapters courses online. Her 2013 Holiday Romance, The Trouble With Mistletoe, The Trouble with Mistletoewas a finalist in the 2014 Golden Quill Contest and the Heart of Denver Aspen Gold Contest.

Her publishing credits include two holiday novellas, previously published by The Wild Rose Press, now re-released or being re-released as self-published editions through Amazon. The Mistletoe Fever was an Amazon bestseller for two weeks in the category of Kindle Short Reads. Her six book small town, Brookhollow series is published through Harlequin Heartwarming, and she has a new MMA sports romance series releasing through Berkley/NAL Intermix in 2015. RT Reviews has given each of her Brookhollow series books 4 stars.

She also hosts an annual SnowGlobe Award contest in recognition of holiday themed romance stories, with over forty entries each year, with participants ranging from new authors to NYT Bestselling authors, such as Brenda Novak and Sarah Morgan. More information about the contest can be found at www.snowglobeawardcontest.vpweb.ca.

She is active on her website, Facebook, Twitter, and various blog sites and has a monthly author newsletter.

More information can be found at www.jennifersnowauthor.com.


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