Challenge,  On Writing

Lifetime Original Christmas Movies

They Have Started…

And yes, I watch them. And yes, I know the plots are all the same. Duh, they are romance, people. Happy Ever After and all that.

But honestly, if you can manage to get your nose out of the air and watch a few dozen of them, you can learn a ton about plotting and character and teams and depth and sometimes even dialog, depending…

And right now in Covid land, these movies are a perfect antidote. I watch Lifetime Christmas Movies, not Hallmark. Honestly, they vary less on Lifetime and I honestly like that.

I find it interesting that the elements of the plot are timed so perfectly with the commercials. (I record them so I don’t have to sit through the same commercials over and over.) Watch for the almost (but interrupted) kiss and ask yourself why. Watch for the push away, run away, can’t work section with some great cliffhangers.

And wow, the meet cutes are often very creative.

So is the use of kids. A ton more respect for family in the last few years than before.

For the most part, they have gotten away from the strong career woman giving up her career to be with a guy or another woman, or a strong career man giving up his career to be with a woman or another man. They are getting better with the creative compromise part of the plot resolution. Not all, but better.

Watch the copyright dates. The movies that are five to eight years old still have those issues. The new ones mostly do not.

I get asked all the time how you learn plot. Answer? You absorb it and pay attention.

Lifetime movies have a feel and a voice to them as a product. They are branded. How do you learn how to do that in your own fiction? You absorb it and pay attention.

So right now, if you have a desire to get away from Covid and be taken into a world with problems that can be solved in two hours and love found in two hours, and if you want to study plot and cliffhangers and pacing in romances, tis the season.

Just saying… Learning for writers is everywhere if you open up and allow it in.


  • James Mendur

    I refuse to watch those movies before Halloween. I *like* Halloween. But yes, they are interesting to watch for constructing stories.

    I remember writing a screenplay, once, back when NaNoWriMo also had a scriptwriting challenge every March, where I used the beats of such movies as the guideline for writing my own movie script. I learned quite a bit about story structure that way. Those movies are also a good example of knowing when the final hurdle and the climax happen in a story, and then after they succeed, the story ends VERY quickly instead of dragging things out.

    It’s also a matter of emphasis. Do you ever watch one of the movies that has a magical element and think of it in terms of a horror movie? Someone makes a wish and the wish throws the lives of everyone around them into havoc to meet the goals of the one making the wish. There was a Hallmark one where the wish created a blizzard, stranding who knows how many people, just to keep the girl and her father in the small town for Christmas. As a holiday romance movie, awww. But it’s kind of a spiritual descendant of that Twilight Zone episode with the little boy sending things to the cornfield. It would be so easy to twist some of these into horror movies, but the writing, acting and directing keep the tone light and fun.

    Thank you for the reminder to watch for the story structure as well as the escapism.

    • dwsmith

      James, it is amazing how many of them have magical elements in them, fantasy elements. Most people don’t realize that, but the writers have no issue on using fantasy.

      • James Mendur

        The writers also have no issue on making the characters’ lives totally unrealistic. Most of them seem to work only a few hours a week, own their own homes, drive nice cars and have tons of free time. Author has writers’ block? Send her to an exclusive ski chalet over the holidays. Travel writer’s work getting stale? Send her to the most Christmassy getaway spot around. Character owns a dog … that never requires walks or vet trips unless the plot calls for it. The small town handyman? He has an MBA from Harvard and worked on Wall Street before he moved back to Smalltown, USA, to work with his hands. The artist setting up a gig as a personal shopper? She has one client and her fee covers renting a new apartment and her art supplies.

        And I get it. Nothing should distract from the fantasy of the romance, certainly not real life worries … unless the plot calls for it.

        I keep forgetting that and have to re-set when watching these to just let the fantasy world happen.

        • dwsmith

          Yup, something I didn’t mention in my blog is that if you watch a bunch of these, it will train you to turn off your critical voice. These are romance, they are fantasy, they have the same basic plot. You watch them for the same reason as billions read romances, for the journey and to escape and be entertained. But critical voice will kill them for you, just as critical voice will kill the fun in your own writing if you let it.

          • Thorn Coyle

            James & Dean,

            Thanks for explaining this.

            I watched one last night and halfway through, wanted to gouge my eyes out. But by the end, I noticed I’d started to acclimate to the strange world. Just a little. I did think: “how can I study plot if I can barely watch this?”

            After reading these two comments–and noting what kind of fantasy world these movies take place in–I’ll watch some more.

          • dwsmith

            Thorn, I would be the same with Regency Romance. Sometimes a certain fantasy world doesn’t hit a person in the right way. But understanding that they are first romance and second fantasy does help a lot. And with these you can often stay on the surface so part of you is aware of the story, part of you is actually doing some study of character and plot and timing and so on.

            Another thing I noticed last night is that the actors help a ton if they are also to your taste. There is an actress, not classically beautiful, but girl-next-door type who can really act. They dress her often sloppy like a normal human, and she tends to make the parts she is playing come alive in a real way, not the pasted-on way of many of these.

          • Thorn Coyle

            This conversation also makes me want to watch a few Lifetime films, then re-watch “Last Holiday” with Queen Latifah, which is a winter holiday romance that I actually enjoy. I now wonder what makes that film different, and stand out for me.

  • Kristi N.

    I like to watch the Hallmark movies with my family but I had to put my foot down last year when every other movie featured a best selling novelist with a deadline and writer’s block. I’m hoping this year’s batch have characters with better work habits.

  • Cynthia Lee

    I binged a trashy, campy and soapy TV show a few weeks ago.

    The sentence above sounds like I’m being dismissive of the show but it was very well-done. It was a very smart show. It absolutely knew it was campy and ridiculous and it knew that the audience was in on it. I really enjoyed it in a completely unironic way.

  • Greg P

    Thanks for this, Dean.

    I watch everything. My wife and daughter will be happy to see me click over to watch these movies. (My son’s a different story.)

    We just finished Modern Romance on Prime. Worth the watch, if you haven’t already. We loved it! I’ve been digging deeper into the romance genre, trying to learn what makes the good stories work so well.

    I’m very tempted to write one. (Romance.)