Hallmark and the Art of the Thriller

I have a confession to make. I love Hallmark Christmas movies. Unexpected viewing for an author who spends most of her time writing about the dark side of humanity, these sweet and sometimes schmaltzy movies have taught me a lot about the art of the thriller. Don’t believe me? Well, you’ve clearly never spent two hours in Evergreen or Pine Grove watching your favorite clever heroine save the cookie factory or plan a Christmas ball all while rekindling a long lost love. Here are just a few of the lessons I’ve learned:

First, setting is key. Whether it’s the snowy hills of a small town or the lavish halls of a castle in winter time, Hallmark knows how to set the mood. These movies get me wishing for a white Christmas in California, the same way I hope my thrillers leave you huddled under a blanket with the lights on.

Two, a dash of humor goes a long way. Witty banter is a staple of my favorite Hallmark Christmas movies. Humor adds that extra punch to dialogue, and it’s sometimes necessary to lighten the mood of my twisted and disturbing tales.

Three, pacing, pacing, pacing! Most Hallmark Christmas movies follow a simple formula, bringing the two main characters together and building tension (the almost kiss) between them before ripping them apart, usually through some massive misunderstanding which could’ve been resolved through a bit of honest communication. But don’t lose hope. In the last ten minutes, the air is cleared and the camera moves in for…wait for it…the kiss! Thrillers require the same sort of tension building (the almost murder) before we get the big payoff, learning the answers and solving the riddles in the final few chapters.

Four, people love a happy ending. Have you ever seen a Hallmark Christmas movie that didn’t end well? Without the carolers and the tree lighting and the family hugs? I rest my case. Thrillers can’t always deliver a happy ending. But I’ve found that most of my books end on the upswing. I’ve toyed with darker endings for some stories, but I guess I’m a sucker for an HEA.

Now, there is one area where Hallmark Christmas movies fall short. There is absolutely, positively no crime of any kind. No shootings. No stabbings. No kidnappings. Not even a petty theft. The worst things that happen in a Hallmark Christmas movie are death (natural causes, of course!) and divorce but never in real time. Maybe that’s one of the reasons these movies are so popular. They leave out the messy bits of life. They’re all light and very little darkness.

So, if you’re a fan of Hallmark Christmas movies (like me), you might be spending this holiday season curled up on your sofa with a hot chocolate and a gingerbread cookie watching your favorite heroine on her journey to the mistletoe. Just be sure to save a little time for one of my thrillers. For betrayal, lust, murder and revenge. After all, even Santa knows there has to be some balance in the universe.

November 21, 2019

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