Anyone who read yesterday’s post will notice that the story writing exercise for this week was focused around holidays. I’ve written before about the importance of including holidays in our writing, and there are many reasons for this. Whether your writing is set in the modern world, a historic fiction, or a fully self-created fantasy world, holidays add a certain level of meaning and reality to your writing. In modern and historic writing this often manifests as a matter of accuracy–for instance, having a celebration of the Independence Day on the 4th of July in a story set in 18th century China is somewhat jarring, especially if none of your characters are American. In fantasy worlds this is a matter of depth and creativity instead of accuracy, but your holidays will still raise questions concerning the nature of your world and whether they fit. For instance, a joyful, high energy, Christmas, Thanksgiving, or Easter style celebration may be out of place in a nation of the walking dead bent on consuming the souls of the world.
The reason that holidays are important in our writing is that they lend a level of authenticity, reality, and emotional investment on the part of the reader that doesn’t come from anywhere else. Humans love to gather and to share emotions, and they love to do so in a wide variety of ways, ranging from morose gatherings to remember a certain individual or event (such as candlelight vigils held as means of remembering some loss) to high-energy parade and decoration inspiring events such as Thanksgiving or Christmas. Holidays mean something to us because they allow for an emotional release, an investment in family and friends, and a building up of community ties around a shared understanding of the special meaning of a certain day. There are some who over-celebrate (for instance, the next time someone tells me ‘May the 4th be with you’) on ‘Star Wars Day’ (which I refuse to recognize as a legitimate holiday despite my deep and abiding love of Star Wars) I might just punch him/her. Then there are other who under-celebrate (… …if you can’t tell, that’s me). However, for both extremes the holidays are still meaningful in some fashion. Alayna literally begged and cajoled me into getting a Christmas tree and then decorating it this year, and I’m honestly very thankful that she did. Our tree might be fake, and cheaply made, but it is beautiful in its own way as a reminder that we are celebrating something special this week–the birth of Christ our Lord. And, for us, there is both an emotional and a religious significance to this celebration.
This kind of authenticity is something that many stories lack. Often, unless a story is about a holiday, it doesn’t include any holidays. There are, of course, novels written about Christmas, Independence Day, etc, but even stories that don’t center around a holiday can be meaningfully impacted by the inclusion of a holiday. For instance, a fantasy story might take place in the context of a city wide holiday festival, even though the story itself has nothing to do with this festival. The movie Die Hard does something similar with Christmas. In this usage of a holiday the emotions and meaning of the holiday profoundly effect the story, and add to our connection with the characters within the story, even though the story isn’t actually about the holiday. This kind of experience allows readers to connect with our characters at the emotional level because we can connect with the celebration of something special. We love special days, and we love to remember and celebrate them. These special days are a part of what makes life worth living. Who doesn’t look forward to their favorite holiday (or even their least favorite holiday at least a little), prepare for it, and allow this anticipation to enhance their emotional and spiritual experience of that holiday. This is a near universal human trait that we can use to introduce our readers to the emotions, personalities, eccentricities, and attachments of our characters as we write them. And this becomes a powerful tool in the hands of a worthy author.
So, while it is easy to forget about holidays in our writing, I think that they are an important and very useful tool for the fiction author to use in a wide variety of ways. They let us provide a means of emotional connection for our readers and they allow us to express our characters in a powerful way that is otherwise difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. As a fantasy author, something that I do whenever I’m developing a new setting is ask the question: what do they celebrate? When do the gather and why? What emotions and practices tend to be involved in their holidays?