Posted On December 20, 2017 by Print This Post

Writing the Holiday Romance by Lisa Plumley

Here we are, smack in the deep end of the holiday season. There’s no getting away from the chaos, as enjoyable as it may be. Today’s scheduled guest has had to reschedule, so we hope this flashback to Christmas past (October 22, 2010, to be precise) brings back good memories for you.

There’s nothing I love better than a holiday romance novel. Christmas, Valentine’s, even Halloween inspires beautiful settings and hot romance. Join us today as Lisa Plumley discusses 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?

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?



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, part of her popular “Morrow Creek” series for Harlequin Historicals and went 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!


Since this post originally appeared at RU, Lisa has had a number of books published, including a small holiday cookbook. Be sure to check out her holiday fare!



(Multi-author Christmas anthology)


All He Wants for Christmas (A Kismet Christmas Romance Book 4)

Recipes from Together for Christmas by Lisa Plumley: 5 delicious recipes for single-serving pies (Kismet Christmas)

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