by Janis Patterson
I am ambivalent about the holidays.
I still have enough of the child in me to be in joyous awe of Thanksgiving, with its focus on thanking God for what made this country great as well as (let’s face it) for the unrestrained gluttony. My family is full of excellent cooks who, for this one day a year, throw their usually healthful menus to the winds and provide a sumptuous feast. Some of the more fanciful and calorie-laden recipes are only brought out on Thanksgiving … and occasionally on Christmas, but not always. We all eat all day and no one says a thing except, “More, please.” We all believe that one day of gourmandry is nothing to worry about, at least, not if you have a ready supply of Tums and Pepto Bismol handy.
The fortnight before Christmas is the same emotional rush – the decorations, the carols, the lights, the mysterious and alluring packages that one by one appear under the tree as if really brought by elves… It is the stuff of magic, and if you are not touched by it I pity you.
On the other hand, I am adult, and I know the work and expenditure and planning and sometimes sacrifice that must be done to create the magic of both holidays – the hard, grunt work that makes them happen. Grunt work it might be, but isn’t all magic supported by grunt work? It’s the quintessential symbiotic relationship… for adults, at least.
Which is a lot like writing. (Stay with me here – I do have a point.) As adults we can see both sides of the holidays – the magic and the hard work. As writers, we have to see and make believable both sides of our characters, bad and good. We have to see all of their motivations, even – especially! – if they conflict with other characters. Such a skill is a necessity, unless we are content to write flat cardboard people with no depth, no reality – creatures who are nothing more than verbal paper dolls. Real people and real characters are multi-dimensional, with sometimes contradictory beliefs and actions both towards others and within their own psyches. As writers we have to see and respond to both.
In other words, we have to create both meat and tinsel in our books. Yes, it’s hard work, but when it’s done right there is magic – and that magic is what we all want.
Hope you all had a great Thanksgiving, and wish you a Merry Christmas or whatever holiday you observe. Now I must run – Christmas is coming more quickly than we can believe, and I’m running low on tinsel!