Don’t sit around complaining about your holiday stress – channel it into your writing. Here are two great ways you can do that:
- Introduce rising tension.
What is it about the holidays that stresses people out? Is it simply the baking? Unless you’re a terrible baker and unable to purchase pre-made goodies, probably not. Is it the gift giving? Most of us don’t freak out over birthdays, so I doubt it’s that alone. If you take apart the components of holiday time, there’s nothing to stress over. But when you add them all together, and throw in a deadline - BAM! Stress.
Does your story seem a little flat? It probably needs tension. Start small with a simple task for your character to accomplish, then start packing it on. The more challenges your character faces, the more tension the story will have. And don’t forget that ticking clock. For the holidays, people keep shopping and decorating and cooking and caroling and volunteering… until they either realize everything is falling into place just in time for the big day, or everything has fallen to pieces. That’s the turning point of your storyline. It doesn’t matter whether you’re writing a happy ending or not, the story is in the journey. Keep adding tension until the character – and your readers – cry out for relief.
While you’re adding these tension-building pieces, remember they have to be something that your character really, really wants – or something that stands in the way of what your character really, really wants.
- Write what you know.
What do you know from the holidays? You know the feeling of frustration as you search for a parking space, driving up and down the same rows. You know the frantic panic of realizing Aunt Jane is bringing Cousin Suzy for dinner and you forgot to get her a gift. You know the weight of dread as you watch the weatherman predict a snowstorm to hit exactly when your plane is scheduled to take off.
Now that your story has tension, use your own stressful feelings to capture how your character will react. How did you feel at those moments? What were you doing with your hands? With your feet? Did your clothing feel tight or scratchy? Were there any smells associated with the experience that will always make you feel stressed now?
You’re most likely not writing a scene that takes place around the holidays, but that doesn't mean you can’t incorporate your own emotional experience into your character, especially an emotional experience with which most readers can empathize. Your character will feel real to the reader if you do.
And just in case you’re thinking I’m a total Scrooge – you can use those feelings of excited anticipation, too.