Our November Round Robin: What stories have you written or read where a holiday takes place. To what purpose was the inclusion of the holiday? How do you celebrate holidays or events? Does this ever make it into one of your stories?
As an annual watcher of all the holiday movies on the Hallmark channel, I have to admit, I’m a sucker for a romantic, holiday, feel-good story. But not all stories are feel-good. If your character was going through depression, or had just lost their spouse, or job, Christmas wouldn’t be all about twinkling lights, gift-giving and merry-making. Your character might feel alone, lost, depressed or even suicidal. Think how worried a man might be – how will he support his family after he’s lost his job, and his wife is out burning up the credit card to provide a “normal” Christmas for the kids? Or even if your character’s personal life is going well, what if she’s an emergency room doctor and she’s working on Christmas Eve when victims of a shooting, or a horrific car crash come wheeling into the ER? It’s always tragic when lives are hanging in the balance and you’re doing everything you can to save those lives, but somehow the specter of the holidays makes it even more tragic. I remember watching an episode of M.A.S.H. where BJ and Hawkeye were struggling to save a soldier’s life but failed. The camera moved to the clock on the wall that read 10:48 (or something like that) and the doctor went over, opened the face of the clock and pushed the hands until it read 12:01. His reason was that the soldier’s children should never have to remember Christmas as the day their father died. So, a holiday, any holiday, can add either cosy, feel-good vibes to a story, or it can make it painfully poignant depending on the story.
So far, in my own writing, I have not used a holiday as a piece of the story to change or up the ante on emotion, but I have used it as a setting. Especially in my contemporary romance Tide’s Way series. The Camerons are a big, loving, family and it’s natural for them to gather together for various holidays. So far my readers have seen them at the annual bonfire on the beach they have every Memorial Day weekend, gathered around the parent’s living room with grandkids tearing open gifts while the siblings watch at Christmas, and celebrating the patriarch’s birthday. Much of the imagery in my head as I was writing these scenes was personal experience. I didn’t have to imagine what it might have been like, because I’ve been there. And most of my readers have too, so using the holiday to showcase the family relationships made it easy for my readers to envision and relate.
In another story (as yet unpublished) everyone else is oohing and aahing over a glorious display of fireworks on July 4th, but my hero is cringing, forcing himself to watch while his gut instinct is to dive for cover. Until my heroine wraps her arms around him and discovers he is shaking like a leaf in high wind and the reader realizes what he is experiencing. Using the holiday and especially the fireworks display allowed me to show the reader the toll war had taken on this young man, doing his best to fit back into civilian life. Then consider George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life. All around George are the trimmings of the holiday and joy, yet he’s feeling like a failure, which leads him to jumping off a bridge. Maybe he would have felt like jumping off that bridge on a calm summer day had the events leading up to it still unfolded as they had. But somehow the poignancy of it being Christmas pushes him over the edge.
So, holidays can be used as a backdrop to add color and texture to your scene, but they can also be used to heighten the stakes emotionally, both positive and negative. Check out what some of these other authors have done with holidays in their books.
Dr. Bob Rich
Anne de Gruchy
Rhobin L Courtright