We’ve officially entered the time of year in which women everywhere gather around their TVs with fuzzy blankets and hot cocoa to watch predictable romance movies that happen to center around the Christmas season. And let’s admit it, there’s a certain charm and coziness in that, and there is something that compels us to watch (and even enjoy) these movies even though they’re trite and predictable and clichéd. Today, I want to talk about what I think those “somethings” are.
(Note: this post is titled “Hallmark movies,” but I’m covering that whole genre that we tend to associate with Hallmark Christmas movies.)
The workaholic businesswoman is forced to return to her cozy small town birthplace for the Christmas season and is determined to hate it, but she runs into an attractive, flannel-wearing farm boy who teaches her the true meaning of Christmas as they slowly (or, really, not-so-slowly) fall in love, and she decides maybe the slow pace of the small town life is better than the helter-skelter business world after all.
I’ve just summarized the entire plot of dozens of Hallmark movies. And yet, we keep watching them, and I think part of the reason for that is because they’re predictable. It’s comfortable to know what’s going to happen, to know that the guy gets the girl in the end, to know that the main character learns her lesson and finds belonging and love in the small town. The story is comfortable, it’s familiar, and we can just sit back and enjoy watching the story unfold… again.
I think this is especially appealing around the holidays, when things are starting to slow down for the year and we are, ourselves, appreciating the slower pace and time with family and loved ones. We aren’t looking for excitement; we’re looking for home, family, and cozy charm.
Reminders of What Matters
The values portrayed in Hallmark-esque movies tend to be pretty wholesome. There are some exceptions, but the prevailing themes that home and family matter, that faith is worthwhile, that love is important, that it’s healthy to slow down and leave behind the hectic pace of work–if only for a little while… These themes are fundamentally true, and I think we have an innate sense for that when we watch these sorts of movies. And if those themes aren’t delivered–if the sisters don’t reconcile, if the girl goes home and leaves behind the man who’s taken care of her, if the family business fails… we’re disappointed. We connect with these themes, with the truth underpinning them (even if the trappings in a Hallmark movie are pretty shallow), and we appreciate seeing them play out and pay off.
This is true in all sorts of stories–we connect with themes that reflect truth–but I think it’s especially obvious in Hallmark movies where the veneer is so see-through that the themes are the only thing of really substantive worth. And they still compel us, even without much help from the rest of the storytelling.
Is This Applicable?
Okay, so we know what makes these cheesy Hallmark movies tick and what keeps us coming back–the value we get out of them. But how does this apply to writing? If we’re writing anything other than romance, why do either of these things matter?
While we don’t want our books to be as predictable as a Hallmark movie (at least, not in the vast majority of cases), there is still something to be said for the comfort of predictability–and the satisfaction of predicting what will happen next. While we may not have (or want) a strict formula for our stories, there are tropes, genre expectations, etc. that can give our readers a bit of familiarity with our story right off the bat. And there are fun ways we can play with these, as well; check out this podcast on using tropes in speculative fiction as an example.
As for themes, the underlying values of our stories don’t have to be right under the surface in order to be effective. Threading subtle themes of truth through our work is just as compelling. The thing to note is that not all themes are created equal; not only are some less heavily influenced by fundamental truths of how God made the universe than others, but different themes will connect better with different audiences. If your audience shares the values you have threaded through your book, they’ll be more compelled than readers who disagree with your premises or just don’t think the same way. (You may notice, not a whole lot of men watch Hallmark movies, and that’s because they’re tailored to the more home- and emotionally-centered themes that women connect with more closely by nature.) So knowing your audience–while secondary to ensuring that your themes are truthful–is another aspect of writing themes that will compel your readers.
Do you watch Hallmark(-esque) movies? What draws you to them? Do you think you’ll apply either of these concepts to your own work? Comment your thoughts below!