Thursday 1 December 2011

Christmas scenes

When re-drafting or planning scenes I run through a list of words: time (year, month, day, time of day), place, temperature, lighting, season, senses, conflict, what happens?, goal for next scene etc. This helps bring a scene to life.
If a scene isn't working, I ask myself whether it can be cut. If the scene is essential to the plot, I find changing the location or season can make a difference. Christmas is a useful time of year to use. 
The run-up to Christmas can be hectic, but once Christmas Eve arrives and the presents are wrapped, I relax. A break from the daily routine is a treat and I enjoy drinking and eating my way through the festive period with family.
What a character does at Christmas says a lot about them and their relationships with others in the book. In Act 3 of my novel, 'The Grandson', the main character, Jessica spends Christmas with her family. She changed her mind about spending it with her fiancĂ©, Sebastian's family at the last minute. This shows that she's having second thoughts about their upcoming wedding.  She talks to her mother, Mary in the kitchen on Christmas Eve whilst her mother prepares the turkey. The father is noticeably absent because he's working on the farm. He doesn't need to but he avoids Mary as much as he can.  Jessica's parents are stuck in a loveless marriage and Jessica points this out to her mother. Mary goes quiet and they have an awkward moment. Then she suggests they leave the kitchen to sit in front of the log fire with a sherry.
Christmas is a time when we make the effort to see the people we care about. Having a Christmas scene in a novel gives a writer the opportunity to show what a character's relationships with others are like. Helen Fielding uses Christmas in Bridget Jones's Diary with success. It's easy to see what Bridget's relationship with her parents is like. Her mother's pushiness is demonstrated when she tries to set Bridget up with Mark Darcy at Christmas drinks. When Darcy wears a ridiculous Christmas jumper given to him by his mother, it's clear that his mother has an influence on him.
Have you used Christmas scenes as an opportunity to show a character's relationship with their family or friends? Or do you have any other comments?


  1. I don't think I've ever done a Christmas scene in a novel, but it's a good idea.

    Despite the best of intentions, people's nerves fray under the pressure of present-buying, when preparing a large meal, often for more people than usual, in the enforced closeness to family and/or friends, coping with over-tired, over-excited children.

    Alcohol flowing freely, often for several hours, is the last ingredient needed for the cauldron to boil over.

    Liz X

  2. Interestingly, Christmas features in my ms - a secondary character, who is vital to the story, is born on Christmas Eve, so there is always a gathering to celebrate her birthday and then Christmas.
    I hadn't thought about it before, but it is an excellent reason to assemble the characters together for a final scene.
    Laura x

  3. I haven't used a Christmas scene yet, but I can see how it would be a useful way to show interactions between characters. It's a stressful, emotion-laden time.

  4. The wip I've just started is entirely set at Christmas. It starts on Dec 22nd and ends on Boxing Day. Lots of it is about that feeling of knowing you ought to be having fun. I think that pressure makes Christmas (like holidays or parties) fraught with potential for emotional turmoil.

  5. I used a Christmas scene in the novel that I've just finished, and there are emotions, mainly because of the main character's ambivalent feelings about family.

  6. Interesting post, Anita. My novel is a mystery/thriller set in the Scottish highlands, and Christmas goes reasonably well for my main character and her daughter. Pressures are building steadily, though, and when it comes to Hogmanay (New Year)...ah, that's quite a different story!

  7. I use Christmas scenes alot, heck I write whole stories based around Christmas. I do use it to explore the characters feelings and it's a glimpse into how they were brought up too. In Christmas Spirit Warms the Heart Jodi had an awful upbringing with an alcoholic mum and Christmas days were nothing special. But she loved the Christmas parties at school and the general feeing of 'good will to all' at that time of year and so has come to love Christmas, despite never having eperienced a traditional family Christmas as a child.