Using the Holidays in Your Plot

January 8, 2016 | 1 Comment

Let’s assume the topic relates to the grand nexus of fall/winter holidays, Thanksgiving-Christmas-New Year’s. That said, I think other holidays have a use as seasonal markers that can be employed as transitional devices (“It was Memorial Day, and the beaches were open.”).

While some non-holiday but widely-observed days such as Halloween, Valentine’s Day and Easter will have a built-in emotional resonance for many, it falls to Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s to arouse an extraordinarily wide range of feeling in western culture. From anticipation to joy, or from apprehension to dread—the big three call up a mix of contradictory emotions. As far as integrating holidays into a plot, what’s the problem? You can go for predictable:

  • “The smells of roasting turkey and cinnamon-laced apple pie filled the house.”
  • “Ellen and I watched the shining faces of the little ones as they dashed to the tree.”

Or you can go for contrast:

  • “The turkey carcass sat forlorn on the table’s edge and the sink was stuffed with dishes.”
  • “Red was the color of Santa’s suit. Dark red like the pool of blood around his chair.”

Writing a thriller? Go for contrast.

And what about holidays in other cultures? Diwali? Eid al Fitr? Dominion Day? Feast of Tabernacles?

Now there’s a problem for seamless integration if you’re writing from a western culture viewpoint to an audience of the same persuasion. My guess is you’d have to stop long enough to talk about the holiday and what it represents, thereby bringing the story to a halt and risking the loss of your reader. That might work for a literary novel, but would be tough going for a thriller.

As for myself, I’m a single guy who always gets melancholy around the holidays. And that’s the mindset I bring whenever I introduce one of them into a plot. But don’t let an old curmudgeon like me spoil the fun. Have a Happy!

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