Friday, November 23, 2012

Home for the Holidays . . . Or Not

When I'm thinking about characters, I try to imagine them as real people. One of the things I find fascinating about myself and other people is the varied ways that we respond to holidays. Of course, it depends on the holiday -- secular or religious, big or small, optional or supposed to be observed -- but we do seem to fall into categories when it comes to holidays. Some of it has to do with our personal situation, but much of it is determined by our personalities. For example, one person could find herself in a house full of relatives and be suicidal half-way through the day and searching desperately for an unoccupied room or corner in which to hide. Another could be in the midst of the uproar making sure everyone has enough to eat and drink, organizing games for the children, and making sure at least two people are taking photos and/or getting it all on video. Some of it has to do with what we experienced as children and what we believe about the meaning of Easter, July 4th, Memorial Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas. But there is also that instinct that leads some people to decorate the outside of their houses for Valentine's Day and Halloween and make seasonal homemade gifts to give co-workers for their desks.

So when I'm thinking about my characters, I imagine what they might be feeling/doing on a holiday like Thanksgiving. I'm sure other writers must do this as we're doing what we do on those holidays, so I don't claim this as a unique discovery for getting into the heads of my characters. But here's what I would ask about a character who is experiencing the Thanksgiving holiday:

1. How does she feel as she looks at the calendar and sees the holiday looming (e.g., anxious about all the things she needs to get done; annoyed because she knows her co-workers are going to be distracted until it's over; happy -- thankful? -- that she has family with whom to spend the day; depressed that another year has passed and she still is dependent on the kindness of friends who might invite her to join them for the holiday; awkward as she tries to dodge the invitations that she knows are coming from friends because she really does want to spend the day quietly doing things she enjoys; or, looking forward to shopping for the Thanksgiving dinner that she plans to cook for the friends she is bringing together at her house; or, maybe she remembers that she needs to call and volunteer to work at the homeless shelter that day. What is the character thinking and feeling as other people buzz about their holiday plans? Does she smile or groan when the bank clerk asks her if she is "ready for Thanksgiving"?

2. If this character has a family and lives away from them, does she go "home" for Thanksgiving. If yes, does she go out of guilt, obligation, or because she really does want to spend time with her family? Who is she really looking forward to seeing? Who is she hoping won't be there this year? When she arrives, does she think of herself as a guest and try to be polite and helpful? Or, does she throw herself back into the mix, arguing and teasing, and doing what she has always done with her family? What changes does she notice in her relatives since she last saw them (e.g., a mother who is becoming absentminded, a baby brother who is suddenly all grown up and dating)? How do these changes make her feel? Does she share her feelings with these people?

3. If this character does not go "home" for Thanksgiving, what excuse does she make? No excuse needed, the family is not close, and they weren't expecting her? She tells them she has to work, and will try to come for Christmas? Can't deal with the travel and the chaos, but will really miss them? Does she call home? Does anyone call her?

4. If the character spends Thanksgiving alone, does she have her own rituals for the day? Are they inherited from her childhood or her own new adult rituals? Does she cook a special meal? Does she sleep late or get up and go for a walk? Does she go to a movie or spend the day working on the files she brought home? Does she stuff herself on snacks or spend the day eating healthy?

5. Wherever she is and however she spent the day, how does she feel when it's over? Relieved? Warm with love and happy memories? Depressed, but not allowing herself to think about it?

6. Is this character going to be out on Friday, shopping for bargains? Or, is she planning to do all her shopping online and never see a mall during the rest of the holiday season?

We have five weeks of holiday season ahead of us. Put your characters out there and see what they do.

1 comment:

Charlotte Hinger said...

Thinking about holidays through the characters head sounds like a great and unusual approach. As usual you have the best ideas!