The holidays bring out many emotions in people from one end of the spectrum to the other. It is this time of year that tends to inspire writers to put a holiday in their writing. I know I do. Holidays can be fantastic sources of interaction, story building and potential strife.
For me a book or story can sometimes be a small retreat from the real world. Even so, I prefer that sanctuary to be realistic within the boundaries of the genre. Writing a holiday can become unrealistic really quickly. Real family or friend gatherings are not perfect, they are usually not flawlessly rosy and completely happy events. People bicker, fight, argue, get stressed, overwhelmed, overworked, crowded to name a few.
They can put on airs and pretend all is well, coming across as fake and glazed over. Family members can have deep seeded issues that go back years. Secrets are always at risk of exposure by a thoughtless person. Especially if someone brings home someone for the first time to meet the family.
They can be amazing too, bringing a sense of love, peace, family, warmth and comradery to the surface. Fences can be mended, temporarily or permanently. Good news and celebrations all around.
Traditions, widely celebrated around the globe or specific and quirky to a person or group. They can be very exciting to write about and read. Real or fabricated.
The temptation to make a perfect holiday gathering in a story is strong, but and that’s a big but, it is soooo much fun to create chaos, embarrassment and hilarity. How people react to the Christmas pudding splatting on the floor can really set a mood. Mom might panic and cry over her shortcoming as a hostess, dad might chuckle, make light and start cleaning it up to make her feel better. Big sister the perfectionist might have a mini meltdown about diner being ruined. The moody uncle may cry bad omens and more foul to come.
Possible super drama causing Christmas disasters (and mini disasters)
Tree falls over or is knocked over
Wrong labels on presents
Relative gets too drunk
Turkey is burned
Power goes out
Everybody brought the exact same dish to the potluck
Car breaks down on the way
Huge personal fight with dirty laundry aired in front of family
Someone trips and falls face first into a gooey dessert
A child accidentally (or on purpose) pulls someones pants or skirt down
Everything that can go wrong does
Someone used the wrong/mixed-up ingredients rendering dinner inedible
What will make the story is how the people react, act and handle things. I make sure to hold true to my characters behaviors and quirks. I love to take this opportunity to expose them or make them vulnerable to show a characters mettle as they make it through the holidays.
The thing is I don’t add a holiday in unless I can make it part of the story, make it have some meaning or influence on the characters or events. It’s not hard to do as long as I keep the basics and remember to have fun with it.
My advice about writing a holiday.
Perfection is boring, stir it up, make it drama and work it all into the main story-line not as detached side-dish that nobody really wants and only takes because it will hurt aunt Bertha’s feelings and ends up fed to the dog or hidden under mashed potatoes.
Happy holidays everyone stay safe and eat lots of turkey!
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