Monday, December 13, 2010

How Do Your Characters Feel About Holidays?


The overseas packages and cards are on their way. Now there is only the local mail to take care of. The lights are up. The tree is almost up. I love Christmas. It's probably my favorite holiday of all. Some of my happiest memories are tied up in it: Making gingerbread men and icing them; basting the turkey (this, in my meat-eating days); wrapping presents and keeping secrets; decorating the tree.

And then, as I drove off to an appointment, I wondered (I do some of my best wondering in the car), "How does Imogene feel about Christmas?" (Imogene is the MC in my latest book.) "And how about Nora?" (The MC in another book.) The first book takes place in summer; the second at Easter. But I realized suddenly, that it doesn't matter when the story takes place: If you know how your character reacts to certain holidays and what those holidays conjure up for them -- Christmas, Thanksgiving; Boxing Day; Guy Fawkes day; Diwali (Divali); Kwanza; Ramadan; Hannukah; Mother's Day -- you've learned a lot about your character. It doesn't matter if the holiday figures in your story. Anniversaries of any kind are loaded with nuance, memory, and meaning in a person's life, and in the lives of your characters as well. Those anniversaries give you insights into their memory banks and what to draw on as they turn to other meaningful moments. They are as important as age, height, physical characteristics, favorite colors, treats and toys, wishes or dreams of the future, and even bad habits.

So now I'm on a treasure hunt of sorts: Given the culture of my differing heroines, and knowing their settings, I'm on a hunt to find out how the calendars of holidays in their respective worlds play out in their minds.

How about you? Do you know how your characters relate to their holidays? Are they happy? Nostalgic? Rebellious? Conflicted? Reminiscent? Excited? Do they wish it were like some other year they would revisit if they could? Do they want it to never end? Do they just want to get through it? Are they oblivious and just going along, not thinking? Visiting those questions might surprise you.

Let me know what you find out.


Jayne said...

Interesting. I think it depends where in my novel you visit my main character to see how she feels about holidays, as her viewpoint would definitely change. Your happy memories of Christmas sound lovely. :)

Rachna Chhabria said...

Interesting post, Elizabeth. My characters love their holidays: like typical school children they cannot have enough of the fun and festivities, food and gifts and games and new clothes. All our Indian holidays come with an abundance of new clothes and an awesome variety of food.

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

Jayne, I agree a character's viewpoint will change, depending on where she is in the novel. The older the character, the more layered the memories. In what era does your novel take place?

Rachna, the Indian holidays sound like so much fun, and geared toward the children.