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USING HOLIDAYS IN YOUR WRITING

January 13, 2021

            This subject is as much for world-building as it is for color, but also for plotting.

            Do you use holidays as part of your stories?

            If so, which ones?

THE “USUALS”

            Since Christmas and New Years have just passed, probably the most common ones used in books would be those two. Maybe add Easter and Halloween to the mix.

            What about the lesser used ones like President’s Day, Three Kings Day, Kwanzaa, Groundhog Day, or so many others?

WHY USE HOLIDAYS AT ALL?

            There are basically two reasons to use holidays.

            Color:

            In world building, the setting is important. As a writer, you want to build, populate, and color your world as vibrantly as possible. You do this by building it from the ground up. That not only includes the environment such as the climate, geography, population, and customs, but also the time of year and for the added touch, local or even national holidays.

            Plot:

            Your story may center around a holiday as part of the plot. A crime thriller may be due to a robbery or a murder on Black Friday. Or, a horror story may be set on Halloween (and no, not THAT one).

IN A FANTASY SETTING

            In a fantasy setting, the same thing applies to both color and plot. The difference is that you, as a writer, have the freedom to make up your own holidays.

            Say what?

            That’s right. You’re not restricted to any norms or traditions of our real world. In your made up world, which you’ve possibly created from scratch, you have the freedom to make up holidays based on anything you want.

            The only catch is: It has to make some kind of sense, and you need to stick with your own rules!

            The above rule is a mantra I repeat often here at Fred Central when it comes to fantasy. In a made up world, while you have certain freedoms, the only real-world constraints need to be that #1 whatever it is has to make sense in some way the reader can understand, and #2, once you make this thing up, you need to stick with your own rules throughout the story or series. IF you ever bend or break those rules, you’d better have a good reason and be prepared to explain it to the readers through the narrative or dialog, once again back to #1, SO IT MAKES SENSE!

DO YOU HAVE TO USE HOLIDAYS?

            Absolutely not. In fact, many stories never refer to them, even in an oblique sense. There’s no mandatory requirement to do so. However, it’s fun to add in a holiday and they’re another color on your artistic writing palette.

            The biggest rule to remember is to use them correctly.

            That sounds rather obvious but if you think about it, even something as simple as Halloween, Easter, or Christmas can be screwed up if the author uses it improperly.

            Why?

            The writer makes an offhand and improper remark about some aspect of the holiday or gets some detail wrong.

            This is especially true if the author decides to throw a little historical or political perspective into said holiday.

            Here we go…

AVOID POLITICAL AND RELIGIOUS DIATRIBES

            If you’re going to use a holiday, make sure you use it correctly and don’t spew propaganda or improper rumors or religious biases.

            There, I’ve said it.

            There’s nothing that can jerk a reader out of a story than to use a real-world holiday in a story and have the author add in a personal bias with something factually untrue. Or, a religious or political opinion that is highly polarizing, regardless of any real or perceived truth.

            I’m not talking about something like the brash commercialization of what used to be the innocence of youth or tradition for a holiday. That almost seems to be a universal truth nowadays. I’m talking about religious or political biases that teeter or veer into polarization and browbeating.

            Logic arguments about the origins of holidays border on political or religious diatribe, which can alienate the reader. This is getting into facts versus fiction.

            It’s best to use holidays at face value. Maybe a snarky remark is okay and leave it at that. Diatribes on the other hand distract from the story and show the author’s bias. They jerk the reader out of the story, even if the diatribe is in the context of the character, which can be borderline author intrusion.

            The exception could be in a fantasy world with a made up holiday, unless the holiday is a thinly veiled real-world one.

            Then again, it’s your story, so you be the judge. It all depends on how many readers you want versus how many you want to piss off. The fact is that you’re not going to convert the already converted and are only going to piss off those that don’t agree with you. Plus, maybe (probably) you’ll lose some potential new fans.

SUMMARY

            Holidays make for great color in your world, whether used as such or going full out as a plot device.

            Use them wisely.

            Happy writing!

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