Posted On October 22, 2010 by Print This Post

Writing the Holiday Romance

There’s nothing I love better than a holiday romance novel. Christmas, Valentine’s, even the upcoming Halloween inspires beautiful settings and hot romance. Join us today with Lisa Plumley as she discusses with RU how to write the holiday romance.

Jack-o’-lanterns. Spiced cider. Crunchy dried leaves underfoot. To me, those sights, smells, and sounds evoke Halloween. Similarly, decorated evergreens, gingerbread cookies, and multicolored chaser lights all add up to Christmas. But there’s more to creating a holiday atmosphere than simply thinking about what the holidays look or sound or smell like. A story could be jam-packed with holiday accoutrements and still come up short with readers. Why? Because it doesn’t evoke the feelings of the holiday.

Feelings lie at the core of every successful romance. That’s why, when I start writing a new holiday-themed romance, I think about what feelings I want to evoke first—then I start plotting and building characters. After publishing two full-length Christmas-themed contemporary romances, one Christmas-themed anthology of my own stories, one Christmas-themed novella in another contemporary romance anthology, and a Halloween-themed novella in a historical romance anthology, I’ve had some experience with writing the holiday romance. There’s only one thing I know for sure: When a reader picks up your book, they want to feel something. Without emotion in your story, nothing else matters.

What do I mean? Simply this: Halloween is spooky. Christmas is heartwarming. Valentine’s Day is romantic. Every other holiday has its own particular emotion and ambiance, too. Too many times, I’ve picked up a holiday romance, anticipating the sentiment and atmosphere of the season, only to come away with…a little holiday window dressing wrapped around an everyday story. And that’s it! As a reader, I’m disappointed.

In the same way that we strive to make our suspense novels really suspenseful and our comedic novels really hilarious, we should strive to make our holiday stories really evoke the season they’re set in. That’s why I focus on emotion first. After that, I choose characters and a storyline that, ideally, could only exist during that particular holiday. It’s a lot like writing a historical romance—preferably, this hero and heroine (and the scenario they find themselves in) could only happen in the Old West or Regency England or ancient Rome or wherever you hang your hat. Otherwise, why not use another setting?

Lisa Plumley's the Holiday Affair

On a purely pragmatic level, there are some handy tricks available, of course. My favorite is the list. When I write a holiday-themed romance, I keep a list of everything I can think of that’s related to the holiday I’m writing about. My (constantly evolving) lists include emotions, seasonal objects, songs and other sounds, places, smells, people, sights, popular culture references, and more. Nothing is too insignificant a detail to include. I keep my lists posted in my office and check off items as I use them. It’s a little unspontaneous, sure, but it works! By the time a book is finished, it’s chockablock with seasonal references on almost every page. I want readers to feel immersed in the holiday—and from what I hear in my reader letters and e-mails, they do.

Another trick is setting the holiday scene for yourself. I don’t use this one much; I’m a pretty nuts-and-bolts kind of writer, not given to character interviews and artist dates. But if you’re stuck, why not give it a try? For instance, usually I’m writing a Christmas romance in July. That’s just the way the deadlines work out. I live in Arizona. In July, it’s sunny and 115 degrees every day. Under those circumstances, cranking down the A/C, lighting a bayberry-scented candle, and programming my iPod with my trusty “Christmas tunes” playlist can be a lifesaver. Yes, it feels a little weird to live in faux Holiday Town when the rest of the world is hanging out at the beach, but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do, right?

Above all, when writing the holiday romance, remember this: It should be fun. Holidays are joyful times! We celebrate them for many reasons, from the trivial to the profound. Run the gamut in your story! If you tap those holiday emotions effectively, you might connect with your readers in a whole new way—and isn’t that what we’re all trying to do?

After all, a story isn’t finished until someone reads it…and a holiday isn’t a holiday until at least two people come together to celebrate it. So the next time you’re faced with a blank word processor screen and a mission to write a holiday-themed romance, take heart: It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be challenging. And, just like the holidays themselves, it’s going to be unforgettable!


What is your favorite time of year for reading a holiday romance?

Thanks to Lisa Plumley for joining us today, we’ve enjoyed having you! Join us on RU next Monday when we discuss the Inspirational Sub Genre of Romance.


Lisa Plumley is the USA Today bestselling author of more than two dozen contemporary, historical, and paranormal romances. Her newest book, Holiday Affair, is a featured selection of the Doubleday, Rhapsody, and BOMC2 book clubs and was awarded 4½ stars from Romantic Times magazine, 5 hearts from The Romance Reader, and 5 blue ribbons from Romance Junkies. Her next book, Mail-Order Groom, is the latest in her popular “Morrow Creek” series for Harlequin Historicals and will be on sale in December 2010. You can find her on Facebook or Twitter, or visit her Web site to read first-chapter excerpts from any of her books, sign up for new-book reminder e-mails, and more!

Similar Posts:

Share Button

Craft of Writing


18 Responses to “Writing the Holiday Romance”

  1. Hi Lisa,

    Thank you so much for joining us! From a career-perspective, I hear more and more about the importance of having holiday romances under your writer’s belt. These books can be bundled or reprinted years after its first printing. Oddly enough, I’ve never read a holiday romance, but your post has inspired me to give them a try. 🙂

    When you say you think about the feeling you want to evoke and build the book around that feeling, can you give us a quick example? What feeling did you build A HOLIDAY AFFAIR around?


    Posted by TraceyDevlyn | October 22, 2010, 5:35 am
  2. Hi Lisa,

    Thanks for taking the time to share your techniques. I like the idea of the list to evoke the season, maybe because I tend towards nuts and bolts as well.

    I’ve never thought of writing a holiday romance, but given Tracey’s post, it seems to be the gift that keeps on giving.

    Posted by Cia | October 22, 2010, 7:58 am
  3. Morning Lisa!

    I looooove holiday romances! Halloween, Christmas, Valentines. You name it, I have it in my collection! I’ve written a short Christmas story and just finished a chapter with a Christmas theme. I love your idea of setting up your own Christmas in July! =)

    Thanks for posting with us today, I’m looking forward to Holiday Affair!


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | October 22, 2010, 9:36 am
  4. Hi Lisa. Thank you for being with us today. I love a good holiday romance with a glass of egg nogg. Just gets me in the holiday spirit!

    I like your idea about building lists. What a great way to brainstorm.

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | October 22, 2010, 10:59 am
  5. Hi, Lisa –

    Thanks so much for being at RU today! And yikes, now I’m thinking about Christmas shopping. Please, someone make it stop!!

    Sounds like Halloween, Christmas and V-day are the “Big Three” of holiday stories. Do you think there are any other holidays that haven’t been utilized to their fullest marketing and emotional advantage?

    Thanks again!

    Posted by Kelsey Browning | October 22, 2010, 11:33 am
  6. Hi everyone! Thanks for having me for a visit at Romance University. It’s quite a cool setup you have here. 🙂

    Tracey, you’re absolutely right. For instance, I was part of the Santa Baby anthology with Lisa Jackson, Elaine Coffman, and Kylie Adams a few years ago. It’s been reissued a few times now, which is always nice. For Holiday Affair, I wanted the story to feel warm, with a focus on family. I did my best to keep that in mind while writing. My H/H are single parents, and they’re doing fine on their own…but they do much better after they find one another!

    Hi Cia! It’s nice to meet another practical-minded writer. Sometimes I feel we’re outnumbered! I admire the fly-into-the-mist types out there, but I’ve made peace with the fact that I’m not one of them.

    Hi Carrie! That’s great! Isn’t it fun to write a holiday romance? I always enjoy it.

    Hi Adrienne! Yum. Me too. My favorite is Silk Soy Nog. Sounds weird, but it’s SO tasty! Even better than traditional eggnog. And yes, I find the lists really helpful. But then, I’m a list-maker in the rest of my life, too, so that’s probably the reason.

    Hi Kelsey! That’s a good question. I think New Year’s-themed romances are great, but you don’t see them very often. To me, the beginning of a new year is full of possibility–and why shouldn’t that include romantic possibility? Also, it seems to me that Thanksgiving could work, if the stories focused on homecoming, reunion, or family-centered themes. What does everyone else think?

    Posted by Lisa Plumley | October 22, 2010, 11:53 am
  7. Great post! I think it would be fun to pick one of the “Hallmark” holidays and construct a story around it. Did you know that March 3 is “I Want You To Be Happy” day? November 2 is “Men Make Dinner” day. September is “Pleasure Your Mate” month!

    I can think of tons of fun settings and storylines that you could pursue.

    This website has tons of info:

    Posted by Robin Covington | October 22, 2010, 12:00 pm
  8. Hi Lisa,

    I love holiday books. Since Halloween is almost here, the stores are crowded with Christmas decorations. I hate to admit I remember when the day after Thanksgiving was the great unveiling of Christmas stuff. So last century! I like to include the holidays in my books. A great conversation starter is when the heroine asks the hero what he wants for Christmas.

    Mary Jo Burke

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | October 22, 2010, 12:34 pm
  9. Hi Robin! Thanks! Those are such fun holidays. What a good idea.

    Hi Mary Jo! Me, too! I’d like it if stores held off a little more with the Christmas creep, but it seems to be here to stay. I’ve learned to buy the holiday books I want when they hit the stores — sometimes they’re gone by the time I’m ready to read them in December!

    Posted by Lisa Plumley | October 22, 2010, 3:01 pm
  10. Hi all! I think writing the holiday romance is one of the most fulfilling things you can do as a writer. Who doesn’t want to read about a holiday romance? And I’m Carrie’s friend who wrote the Hanakuh romance. 🙂 It’ll come out probably next month LOL Also for me I have two historical Christmas shorts coming out in December (one is completely from start to finish hot) lol I just wanted to challenge myself LOL

    And yeah, I’m finishing a Halloween tale right now for next year 🙂 I just can’t help myself! It’s a sickness lol

    Posted by Sandi Sookoo | October 22, 2010, 3:18 pm
  11. Hi Sandi! Congratulations! That sounds awesome. It’s so important to have fun and feel fulfilled with what you’re doing. 🙂

    Thanks again for having me here at RU, everyone! It’s been fun!

    Posted by Lisa Plumley | October 22, 2010, 4:39 pm
  12. Thank you Lisa for your great post and joining us at RU today! I’m a huge fan of holiday romances, and I’m sure yours will be in my hot little hands soon!



    Posted by Carrie Spencer | October 22, 2010, 9:56 pm


  1. […] And if you are interested in writing romance, take a look back at this great post from Lisa Plumley. […]

  2. […] Shame on a ‘holiday romance’ that cheats its reader out of that immersion. It’s one of the major flaws in the genre, as USA Today Bestselling Author Lisa Plumley points out in an interview with Romance University. […]

  3. […] Shame on a ‘holiday romance’ that cheats its reader out of that immersion. It’s one of the major flaws in the genre, as USA Today Bestselling Author Lisa Plumley points out in an interview with Romance University. […]

Post a comment

Upcoming Posts





Follow Us