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December 29, 2011

How to Use Holidays in Our Writing

Decorated star-shaped cookies

*Quick Reminder: I hope you’re all getting a 10-60K story ready for the Pitch Your Shorts pitch session coming January 10th.*

Most of us have a favorite holiday (or two).  Sometimes we love a holiday because of the meaning behind the day.  Sometimes we love a holiday because of the celebrations (fireworks, being with family, wearing costumes).  And sometimes we love a holiday for the trappings (music, parades, TV specials).

But what really makes a holiday special, year after year?  Why do we look forward to it?

In a word, memories.

We remember the celebrations of years past and how much we enjoyed it.  Those memories are what make us anticipate upcoming holidays.

We’ve lived through thousands of Thursdays, but we probably can’t pick out any particular one unless something unusual struck us about that day.  Similarly, the events of a holiday are different than our normal everyday life, so the memories stick out in our mind.

Christmas always stands out in my memories because there are so many “extras” I love about it.  Above and beyond the gift-giving and family time, I enjoy baking Christmas cookies (584 this year!) to share, and I get warm fuzzies from Christmas songs.

One of my favorite Christmas memories from when I was a child is the Heat Miser song from The Year Without a Santa Claus TV special.  Unlike other Christmas specials, this one wasn’t shown very often, and in the years before the powers that be released it on DVD (or even videotape), those who remembered this song felt like they belonged to a secret club.

A Writer’s Approach to Holidays

As writers, we can tap into the memories of our readers when we include holidays and celebrations in our stories.  Susan Sipal recently blogged about the recurring recognition of Christmas in the Harry Potter books, and how the events and tones of the scenes reflected each story.

Our readers have strong emotions about holidays and we can use that to our advantage when we write holiday-themed scenes.  Sometimes we might want to play into the stereotypical happy feelings, but other times we could go against type.

Imagine a heroine struggling for acceptance from her overly picky mother.  A scene with them arguing about the heroine’s cooking ability could have extra punch if it took place during Thanksgiving, Christmas, or another food-centric holiday.  (Are there any holidays not about food?  Not according to my family. *snicker*)

Or imagine a a hero faced with a choice that has been foreshadowed by one of his New Year’s Resolutions.  We all know how often those are kept.  *cough*  So the reader won’t know which way he’ll decide until he acts.

In January, I’ll be revising one of my stories that I think could benefit from this tactic.  I’m already ripping out the heart of one of the characters, but setting the scene during a holiday could make the emotions even more poignant.  Hee.

Setting—the time and place of a scene—can be used to increase the tension and emotion for the characters and the reader.  The next time you’re writing a scene that feels flat, see if changing the setting, like to a holiday, improves how events play out.

On an unrelated note:

January 1st is the deadline for nominating your favorite writing websites for Writer’s Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers.  Several of my friends were finalists and winners in the Write to Done awards, and I’d love to see the same happen in this one.

To nominate a blog or website, send an email to: writersdigest@fwmedia.com.  Put “101 Best Websites nomination” in the subject line.  Write a brief note asking WD to consider the site for the 101 Best Websites list.  Provide both the name of the site, as well as the URL.

For example: “Please consider adding Jami Gold, Paranormal Author at https://jamigold.com to your list of 101 Best Websites.”  (And no, I’m not asking for votes.  That was strictly for example’s sake.  *smile*)  So please take a minute and nominate your favorite writing website/blog.

And I hope everyone is having a wonderful holiday season, no matter what holidays you celebrate.  *hands you a plateful of cookies*

What holiday memories stand out in your mind?  Why do they stand out?  Have you written any holiday scenes?  Did you go “with” or “against” the stereotypical emotions of the holiday?  Was anyone else a member of the Heat Miser/Cold Miser secret club?  *smile*

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Comments — What do you think?

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Susan Sipal

Jami, we belong to the same club! I ADORED Heat Miser/Freeze Miser almost as much as the Grinch and would go around singing that song throughout the holiday. You’re right, it never was on as much and there were a few years there when it was hard to find. I’d look for it.

Thanks so much for the mention of my Christmas post. And I’ve sent my e-mail. Your blog is by far one of my favorites, and such an amazing resource for writers! 🙂

Julie Glover

My best friend in college and I talked about this song a lot. We loved it! I’m totally in the club. I’ve been surprised how few of us there are.

Great idea about including holidays. Thanks, Jami.

Janice Hardy

Great post (and I LOVE that song too. Just saw that again this year with my 3 year old niece). Even fantasy writers can benefit from thinking about holidays. Cultures celebrate no matter what the culture. You can enrich your world by thinking about how they celebrate and why.

Deidra Alexander

Holidays are great for intensifying guilt, anger, or isolation. Hopefully that isn’t a comment on my psyche.
Thanks for the ideas.
Dee

Carradee

Holidays have never been a great deal to me, and I’ve not really used them yet, but I do have some future stories planned that’ll make strong use of them. I just can’t write them yet because they’re in a series, and I can’t jump that much out of order.

I’ll hopefully have enough of that series written by next year to be able to start work on those, though. I’d start on it now, except I need those other stories written first for them to have the appropriate background and impact.

Note: I have one novelette done that wasn’t supposed to be a novelette, though not the one I’m hoping to complete by the 10th.

Julie Hedlund

I just had to say that I once got out my tape recorder (remember those?) to record the Heat Miser/Cold Miser songs so I could replay them over and over.

So I’m part of the secret club! 🙂

That’s one thing that DVDs have ruined for today’s children – that sense of how special it was that you got to watch that one show only once a year. I used to feel this way about The Wizard of Oz and The Sound of Music too.

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[…] talked before about the importance of rituals and traditions in our holiday celebrations and how we can incorporate those ideas into our writing. My latest work in progress includes both a Thanksgiving and a Christmas scene. Details in scenes […]

Bella ardila
Bella ardila

I love holiday. Holiday can be put in the novel in a good term. Nice blog Ms Jami

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