I never made the movie connection while writing my series of novels. One reader said my first novel, A Letter from Miss Wingate, read like she was watching a Hallmark movie. Interesting, I first thought. I never started writing the books with that intent in mind. With subsequent novels in the Patch Town series, I received similar feedback indicating the chapter endings propelled the reader forward. Readers used some well-known phrases to describe their reaction like “I couldn’t put the book down” or “the book was a real page turner.”
Every writer would appreciate that feedback despite its frequent usage in book reviews. My wife loves Hallmark movies, and by default, I have seen my share of them whether I like them or not.
Here are my three general observations from the myriad of TV Hallmark movies I have watched. I have tried to apply the principles to all my books.
1) During the first twenty movie minutes, there are typically no commercial breaks. The primary goal is to get the viewer hooked and committed to stay with the programming to the end. From the writer’s perspective, the object of the first chapter is clear: hook in the reader and introduce the principal characters directly or indirectly by planting a seed of information about a character that could be fleshed out in a later chapter. As well, begin to develop the conflicts of the plot and sub-plots.
When viewing a Hallmark movie, you get the general premise of the main storyline(s) and the central conflict(s) within the twenty-minute commercial-free opening. Applying these observations to writing a novel, one must introduce characters and their relationship to each other, and the beginning of the storyline. Hook readers, provide some background, and do all this within the first few pages of the book.
There are more lessons to be learned by no commercial interruptions at this stage. Every word is precious and cannot be spent on extensive backstories that do not always propel the reader forward if too much is introduced too early
Here’s the opening paragraph, chapter one, from “A Letter from Miss Wingate” to illustrate the points I’ve made.
The unopened letter stood in the middle of the kitchen island where Martin Gilmore had tossed it aside as an unexpected reminder of his past. Since its arrival, the letter felt like a throbbing thorn in his finger. Instead of being a reason to show mercy toward Miss Wingate, as his wife Sarah would likely have encouraged, it was more a reminder of what might have been had he never encountered Elizabeth Wingate.
Here is another example, the opening paragraph, chapter one, about a run-away wife from my book “Finding Emmeline.”
Anxiety rippled through Elsa Delgado’s heart with a damp chill as she tightly held her daughter Ava’s hand. The mother’s body heaved with each anxious breath as she nudged the eight-year-old child back away from the weighty rain drops dripping off the overhead stone archway. No matter how many times Elsa was a courier for the counterfeit documents, the task never got easier over the last eight years on the run from her abusive husband.
2) The second observation while watching a Hallmark movie is what happens when the storyline is interrupted for a commercial break. A plot twist, new revelations or a cliffhanger usually proceeds a movie break to commercial. Think of the end of chapters as a commercial break, and always include a cliffhanger, major or minor.
Here is the end of chapter one for my book “The Reflection in the Mirror” as Martin deals with a run-away teen.
Martin hunched his shoulders, his equivalent of “whatever”. He was already tired from too many Simon battles.
“Are you regretting your decision to deal with Simon?” Linda whispered.
A ham sandwich war! A stolen protein bar! What’s next?
Martin prayed silently that all would go well on Monday when he registered Simon for school.
3) The last element to consider while viewing a Hallmark movie is the final moments of the presentation. The love relationship you rooted for now faces imminent collapse. Everything looks doomed, and what you thought would be the ending is now jeopardized. But in the last moment, everything is resolved to your liking. The romance works through its differences. The whodunit is solved in the nick of time. Now apply that concept to your book ending,
Here is part of the closing for my book “Up from the Ashes.” There was an earlier proposal misstep, and now Martin tries to make it right! Ruthie is Martin’s daughter, and Kati is Linda’s daughter.
Martin stood before Linda for a moment before he bent down on one knee. Linda’s eyes were instantly moist with tears.
“Linda, my life began to change that day the Lord ushered you up my driveway and into my life. I have fallen in love with you and would like you to be my wife.
“I promise to do everything in my power to make my love for you a growing part of our life together. Every day, I will try to strengthen our love and our marriage to the best of my ability. I will stand by you no matter what we encounter in life, and I will keep myself for you alone.”
Tears were streaming down Linda’s face. Her right hand reached across to Kati, who was fighting back tears.
Ruthie came into the room, carrying a dozen red roses. She handed the flowers to Martin, who then placed the bouquet in Linda’s arms.
“Linda Petersen, will you marry me?”
[You must read the book for her answer!]
Writing a novel should never be formulaic. These suggestions are given as a general guideline to stimulate your creativity and seek new ways to express your inner story.
Posted August 1 2017 by Marlena Smith's writers blog