Holidays and Mysteries
A Combination as Good as Santa’s Cookies and Milk:
Incorporating holidays into writing
Holidays are special for writers. In addition to being fantastic in themselves, holidays can serve as writing inspiration. For example, Halloween is a natural fit for a mystery, but other times of year could serve, as well. Christmas or New Year’s—counter-programming against a scary season—could be a great backdrop for a whodunnit. Yes, holidays can serve as excellent resources for writing. The methods of incorporating holidays include using time with family and friends as both a writing break and a way to investigate and contemplate characters; using the heightened senses surrounding holidays to improve writing craft; and finally, holidays serve to ground writing in a specific time and place.
Time spent with family and friends during the holidays can be inspirational for a writer. For instance, during the Christmas season, time with loved ones reveals expressions of gratitude and love. Those moments are like nectar for a writer. We are sensitive creatures and any comment, revelation, or even facial expression is something we may store for later, using it in relation to a character or a future scene. (I recommend changing names and locations to protect the innocent, by the way. No need to add more stress to a future holiday.)
Also, holidays are a break from routine. If a special event serves as a complete break from writing for the day, let it be just that. Perhaps the break will allow new ideas to sneak in unaware while one is enjoying a hike, or indulging in Christmas treats or a glass of wine.
The holidays, for me, are about the five senses: The smell of fresh pine during the Christmas season. The aroma of cinnamon and nutmeg at Thanksgiving. The crisp air of the Northwoods in spring. At Easter, it’s the taste of sweet jelly beans, one after the other. Deploying all five senses (rather than just seeing something) in a story is recommended as a way to reveal motivation, events, or character background.
The holidays provide reasons to incorporate other senses in a novel. A Christmas carriage ride in the cold numbs the fingers. The aroma of pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving brings back memories of a beloved grandmother. The taste of Valentine-gift champagne is tantalizing. Yes, using a holiday provides plenty of fantastic methods to incorporate all the senses, not just sight.
Further, holidays assist both plot and character. Plot wise, holidays can either trigger or resolve events. A major holiday can be a moment to write toward; it can be a time when issues are resolved, revealed, or a plot twist occurs. Also, a character can be obsessed with a holiday; have had a tragedy occur; or, be otherwise impacted by a special time of year.
Finally, a writer’s senses can be heightened during the holidays. We are affected by special times of year just as our characters are; it’s a time when we’re more aware of our surroundings; those in our vicinity; and, the events in which we participate.
Time and place
In a previous blog post, I wrote about how seasons affect writing. Holidays can act similarly in that special times of year offer plot markers for stories. How a writer uses those markers depends upon the story, of course, but it bears repeating that holidays are fantastic resources for writers. From plot ascension to behavior triggers, holidays can affect a story in many ways.
I can still hear my writing professor directing us to ground our stories in time and place. For me, a holiday was a go-to; using a holiday around which to center a story was one of the first things I did as I created a plot outline.
Question: Has a favorite holiday inspired your writing? Will you be incorporating a holiday in a future writing project?
This year, I received a special gift for Christmas: A clean mammogram. That was what I wished for — and I’m extremely happy to have received it. It was a few weeks early, but I’m not complaining. As for the rest of my holiday season, it will be too busy, too short, and overflowing with food, drink, and loved ones. I am eternally grateful.
Happy Birthday, Jesus, and Merry Christmas to All!
As always, happy writing.