Happy Holidays; or, Celebrating With Your Characters

(This posting originally appeared on The Melt-Ink Pot)

The holidays are such a crazy time of year. Not only do they wreak havoc with our schedules, our sleep patterns, and even (I think) our brain cells, but they often leave us with little time to focus on writing. I’ve scraped out a few words this past week–some of them are even good ones, I think–but my current WIP is still mired in the doldrums that are The Middle Of The Story.

One way to liven things up is to celebrate the holidays with your characters. When I was a kid, I loved reading stories that included Christmas customs. I adored reading about what presents Ma and Pa Ingalls gave Laura and Mary, and how they celebrated the holiday.

Last year at this time, I was chortling happily over the first book in my current series, The Daughters of August Winterbourne, and having my main character, Celia, meeting with her love interest, Nicholas, under the mistletoe for a stolen kiss … and the consequences thereof turned out to be far greater than planned! I reveled in their shy exchange of gifts, lavished pages of description on the balls they attended, and even chattered happily about their Christmas shopping trips.

I’m editing that section of the story now, and guess what? Some of the detail that I found so fascinating to write…is actually pretty boring to read. It might be important to know that Nicholas gives Celia a locket for Christmas; but we don’t need to know what everybody gives everyone. If a gift will become important later in the story, then you certainly need to mention it, but otherwise, merely saying “they exchanged gifts” will probably suffice for most situations.

Likewise, we probably don’t need to go on for pages and pages describing all of the house’s decorations in loving detail. We don’t need to know every carol they sing, every delicacy they eat. If the setting is important to the story, then include a few vivid details and let the reader’s mind fill in the rest. Otherwise, that sort of thing is probably best left to Dickens.

The exception to this, of course, would be if you were describing holiday customs that were unfamiliar to the majority of your readers. It’s amazing how easily one can evoke a holiday picture using just a few key phrases that are common to many people’s experience (mention a kids’ table, a silver tinsel Christmas tree, and the fact that the seats on the dining room chairs are all covered in clear plastic, and your readers will have a pretty good picture of a certain type of family and their celebrations). But if you’re describing a ritual from a less mainstream culture–or even one you’ve made up–a little more detail might be necessary.

What sorts of holiday celebrations have you included in stories? How much detail do you, as a reader, want/need?

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About sheilamcclune

Aspiring author, sharing the tidbits I've learned along the way.
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One Response to Happy Holidays; or, Celebrating With Your Characters

  1. Anonymous says:

    Unless you're attempting some sort of minimalistic "Our Town" staging, some descriptions will be necessary for color/flavor/context/whatever. But especially in today's world of flash cut short attention span theater it is quite easy to use more description than the audience is comfortable with. The modern meme is "Checkov's Gun.""Beloved Husband"

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