by Jennifer Donovan

Hallmark—and Netflix, Lifetime, Freeform, etc.­­­­—Christmas movies are the cozies of the TV movie world. They’ve got similar hallmarks (ha!) to these fun mysteries, which makes them a great source of inspiration for anyone working on their cozy series. Here are a few things any writer can learn by watching a Christmas movie.

1. Setting

Both cozies and Hallmark Christmas movies emphasize the setting. It’s usually a small town with picturesque snow that’s almost always filled with mom and pop shops and/or historical sites—color and texture galore. Writers can learn the importance of infusing these seemingly tiny details into their story. With them, they’ll be creating an immersive world for their readers.

2. Supporting Cast

Almost as important as the main character is the supporting cast you create. Hallmark movies often have quirky side characters that help further the plot. These characters are important to develop in cozies too, because readers often come to love the recurring cast of unique townspeople in series as much as they love the protagonists. It’s important for you to continue to add more characteristics to these people as you go to avoid making them too flat. Plus, these characters can open up opportunities for new plotlines as you continue writing new books.

3. Subplots

Although Hallmark Christmas movies love to focus on the romance, they don’t only focus on the romance. There are almost always multiple subplots going on as well. These can include career ambitions, family bonding, as wells as rediscovering a love for the holiday and remembering the true meaning of Christmas, to name a few. It’s important to remember that although your cozy is ultimately about an investigation of the core mystery, it can’t only be about that or else readers will get bored. A person always has more going on in their life than just one thing, so give your protagonist a few problems to juggle too!

4. Plot Twists

Everyone knows that mysteries need some unforeseeable twists and red herrings, but have you ever noticed how often Hallmark Christmas movies work them into their scripts? Personally, I enjoy a love interest who turns into the villain or vice versa. Take the time to see how a Hallmark movie works in subtle clues of the upcoming twist and use it as inspiration for how you can work in your own hints throughout your story.

5. Mood

Although cozies can deal with heavy topics (e.g., murder), they strive to be lighthearted, and even funny. The main goal of any Christmas Hallmark movie is to capture the holiday spirit and convey it to their viewers. When you watch one of these, take the time to notice the tricks they use to lighten the mood through things like the dialogue and scene transitions and think about how that could translate to your book.

6. A Big Group Finish

Finally, everyone loves a good gathering to celebrate the end of the movie, such as a ball, a festival, or even something as simple as a family dinner. This is true for cozies too, where the resolution is often best done by finding a way to gather together your core cast for a celebratory meal or event where they can go over the outcome of the mystery, tie up loose ends, and maybe even hint at what’s in store for the future.

And now it’s time for you to go watch a few and look for your inspiration. There’s no better time than the present. ‘Tis the season, after all. Happy researching!

Jennifer Donovan at Career AuthorsJennifer Donovan is an Assistant Editor at St. Martin’s Press and Minotaur. Prior to her current position, she was an Editorial Assistant at the industry blogs Publishing Trendsetter and Publishing Trends as well as the Office Manager at the publishing consulting firm Market Partners International. She graduated from New York University with degrees in English and Journalism and is just beginning to think of herself as a New Yorker after living in the city for almost a decade.