Okay, so it ended up being Thursday anyway. Happy Christmas Eve, everyone.
So, I got to sit down and talk with Shane Black last week. If you don’t know who he is–shame on you. Why are you even reading this? Anyway, we talked a lot about the holidays and how they can affect storytelling.
I see holiday stories all the time. My own chosen genre ties well to several holidays. Plus, when I read for screenplay contests I’m almost guaranteed to get a dozen or so scripts about the true meaning of Arbor Day or some such thing.
Here’s what any aspiring writer need to understand about these holiday stories. They’ve been done. All of them. Done many, many times. If you can actually come up with a new holiday-centric plot that hasn’t been done before, it will be nothing short of miraculous.
Look at Christmas, for example. In books and films and short stories we’ve seen Santa as a saint and also as a monster. We’ve seen him as the good guy, the bad guy, a clone, a robot, a magical toymaker, a guy who wished for the job, and a guy who stumbled into it. Heck, I just heard about a movie recently where Santa turned out to be the Antichrist.
We’ve seen Santa quit. We’ve seen him get hired and get downsized. We’ve seen him get replaced, go on vacation, get arrested, and deal with elf union bosses and their demands.
Christmas has been disrupted by Scrooges, Grinches, gremlins, zombies, musical skeleton men, snowmen (good and bad), mythological rivals, evil Santas, drug dealers, terrorists, hit men, aliens (most notably Martians), and even Satan himself.
I’m not even scratching the surface, mind you. Everything I’m saying about Christmas applies to every other holiday. Halloween, Hanukah, Easter, Ramadan, Thanksgiving, Passover, Labor Day, Valentine’s Day, President’s Day, Boxing Day, Independence Day, and even the winter solstice. Yes, that’s right, there’s a movie about Passover. When Do We Eat? It also featured heavy drug use.
Now don’t get me wrong on this. I’m not against stories that center around a given holiday. There are many I love, and there’s a huge market for this stuff. As I hinted above, horror and Halloween go together like chocolate and peanut butter. The Hallmark Channel does a few dozen holiday movies every year, as does Disney.
What I will say, though, is that if you want to write a holiday story, you have to know the oeuvre back and forth. You have to know all the stories that have come before yours. Because I can guarantee you, the editor or producer you’re subbing to has been exposed to them. They’ve also been exposed to the dozens of manuscripts about said holiday that came in before yours, and there’s a good chance those tales trod over all the same ground. Writing a regular story is challenging. Writing a Christmas story means you have to start at the top of the pack and then go even further.
Keep that in mind as you’re gathered around the fireplace telling stories of Christmases past, present, and future.
Next week, I’d like to sum up 2009. Until then, enjoy your eggnog and have a very happy holidays.
And if you can fit in some writing, good for you.