Monday, November 24, 2014

Best of Writing 101: Writing 101: Writing About the Holidays

The holiday season makes people feel excited for something, anxious and happy. It's a thrilling time, and it's a time when everyone's wallet is a little more open than usual. So writing about the holidays is tempting. After all, doesn't the Hallmark channel need new movies about Christmas every single year? Obviously holiday stories are in demand. So why shouldn't you write about them? 

Don't worry -- I'm going to tell you why. 


My Thanksgiving with YouTube

Let me start by telling you a story, since I am a storyteller. I was planning a pretty big event about three years ago, and I was so into it I was barely sleeping at night. So a few days before Thanksgiving, I found myself cruising forums at 3am. It's not as bad as it sounds -- it was a party-planning forum. And there was a link to a YouTube video, and I'm a sucker for those. 

It ends up being a video diary of this Australian guy who was getting the wrong email. Apparently, he had the same name as an American and he was on the family mailing list in lieu of the correct person. This is how he became aware of an intriguing discussion about Thanksgiving. He read about deviled eggs, and turkey, and stuffing and gravy and all sorts of different back-and-forth. It was fascinating stuff, so much so that he launched a YouTube campaign in order to find this family. 


They contacted him, and he traveled all the way to America to celebrate Thanksgiving with them. He posted videos of his entire adventure, and I spent the entire holiday avidly watching. You see, this was special because they don't have Thanksgiving in Australia. 

It's unique to the United States, because it's a holiday that was originated by the Pilgrims. Those kinds of things never occur to me, when I'm in the midst of the holiday season. I assume everyone is shopping pumpkin pie recipes and thinking about stuffing on the fourth Thursday in November, but that's just not the case. 

And that's the point of my rather long story: writing about the holidays can alienate a huge audience. Write about a holiday that's unique to a country (like Canada's Boxing Day, or the Fourth of July in America) and you're going to be writing about something that's foreign to many readers. That means you have to write about the holiday really well. Explain what it's about, why it's a holiday, all of that stuff -- and do it without screwing up the narrative of the story. Otherwise, your readers may just sit through the story scratching their heads and that's no good for anyone. 

Even international holidays, like Halloween, are pretty tricky stuff. Many of these holidays aren't related to a country, but they are related to religion. Christmas is a prime example of this. It's a holiday associated with Christians, so some of your readers may be unable to relate to this story. How can you write it in a way that's relatable to everyone? That's another one of the challenges that come with writing about holidays.

It's difficult, but it's doable. Take extra care to explain the event, and what's unique about it, so your readers can fully understand what's going on. Find the common themes in the story that make it relatable to everyone, in spite of their religion or origin. A story about the holidays that's well-written can become a timeless classic. After all, A Christmas Carol was just another story, once.

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