Ho, Ho, Ho and the Blank Page

I seem to spend a lot of time in my kitchen, opening random cupboard doors and staring at the contents, or peering into the refrigerator and assessing the offerings. Usually, it isn’t hunger that drives me; rather, it is frustration, lack of inspiration, or simply the need to move away from the computer. Not all days are like that, and I don’t always experience those blank page moments, but when I do, and the leftover chicken or condiment shelf in the refrigerator fails to inspire me, I turn to the old standbys: weather and holidays.
Fiction requires suspense, tension, conflict: moments that push our characters to finding strength, or succumbing to weakness. Readers want to revile the villain, cheer for the hero, and feel empathy–or at least sympathy–for the character who captures their attention. But, if we are writing about ordinary people (as opposed to vampires, werewolves, animals, or aliens), a convenient way to intensity their dilemma is to set the action either in inclement weather or on an already stressful holiday.
There’s nothing wrong with doing so. Ignore those who say that it’s an easy out for the writer. Consider, instead, the added drama if the main character walks out on his or her family on Thanksgiving Day, leaving the turkey uncarved and the relatives bewildered. Perhaps one of your characters becomes blue on his birthday, or another celebrates to excess on the anniversary of her divorce. The opportunity for lively dialogue alone will enrich your narrative.
Holidays, inserted into a work of fiction, often adds background detail that excites the reader’s imagination. A long held secret, revealed under a twinkling Christmas tree at midnight, will have more impact than if it was told while shopping for groceries. A forgotten sixteenth birthday, or a misdirected Valentine, can become the focal point of a story.
Mystery writers have long capitalized on Christmas as the ideal time to stage murder and mayhem. And, for weary holiday makers, exhausted from shopping and cooking and dealing with crowds, an evening curled up with a Christmas cozy can transport them to a manor house in Yorkshire where a married woman’s lover has just been stabbed. The husband or the butler?  It isn’t even necessary to suspend disbelief as the unlikely plot unfolds. It’s pure escape.  And, just as important, a break for the writer who usually researches meticulously to keep every word and detail authentic.
Writing holiday fiction can be the opportunity serious writers need to let the creativity flow without worrying about whether the reader will buy it or not. Readers are discriminating; they know what is relevant and worth study, and what is simply fun–the equivalent of a good beach read. The added value is that, in letting go and writing for the joy of moment, you may discover new inspiration and generate a great idea for the next, serious manuscript you produce.
Although Christmas is a natural source for everything from mysteries to feel-good miracle stories, the other holidays are rich in material also–all those Halloween horror stories still flood the market.
So if the refrigerator doesn’t do it for you, pick a favorite holiday and let your imagination take over. What if, on St. Patrick’s Day, “Mary opened her front door and  . . ..”

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