Thursday, November 12, 2015

Holiday scenes

In fiction, holidays offer opportunities for both character and plot development.

I use a calendar as I write, to keep track of how many days have gone by in the characters' lives, when the weekends should come, when the seasons must change, etc. When I was writing The Secret Year, I realized at one point in the story that Thanksgiving was coming up. I'd already established that the main character had an older brother in college. It made sense that the brother would come home for Thanksgiving. The brother's visit enabled me to explore a character who had been, until then, offstage. I asked myself all sorts of questions: Who was he, how did he fit into the family, how did his story relate to the main character's? This new person in the story enabled us to see sides of all the other characters that we hadn't seen yet.

But the holiday itself, Thanksgiving, also played a role. In the US, we have expectations of Thanksgiving: an image of family and togetherness and bountiful food and special traditions. For many families, the reality doesn't always live up to the ideal, and in that difference between expectation and reality, there is room for a story to grow. There is also room for story in the mere fact that many people (who often know one another well, flaws and all, and who have strong emotions about one another) gather in a small space.

When you gather your characters' families together, add traditions and memories and hopes and histories, what do they say to one another?

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