Sunday, December 20, 2020

The Makings of a Good Holiday-Themed Book

Some ideas come naturally, other times authors think hard about how to appeal to a certain audience or work an event or holiday into a book. A quick look at online booksellers (even more so than in bookstores) indicates how many writers incorporate a Christmas theme. 

Halloween is popular in genre fiction, especially relatively recently. This seems to have coincided with when more adults started celebrating it. 

The Christmas concept makes sense for a lot of reasons -- it's often a joyous period (who wants to write about bad stuff all the time?) and the season is a long one. In the U.S., the timespan goes from after Thanksgiving, at the end of November and runs through New Year's Day. A plot has a few weeks to evolve and there is a lot going on. And it can be just plain fun.

To hold reader interest any book needs conflict (in the sense of addressing and resolving something) and action. Action does not mean chase scenes, simply that something important has  to happen.

Think of the Christmas story many people read as children and continue to see -- Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Structurally, having Scrooge visited (in the form of his late business partner) by the ghost of Christmases Past, Present, and Yet To Come  is brilliant. More important, the visits give Scrooge the chance to learn a lot and evolve fairly quickly.

A problem gets resolved. Readers want something to be better because of action that took place during the Christmas season. 

Reaching to cinema, It's a Wonderful Life continues to play in living rooms every year. To be sure not to miss it,we bought a DVD. Jimmy Stewart shows us (also with a visitor from  the past) that what we do with our life matters, and we reap what we sow. Look at all those friends in the ending scene!

Dare I mention Elf? How did a film about a naive adult Santa's helper become so popular? If you're still asking the question, watch it. The plot revolves around Will  Ferrell's story, but who evolves? His reluctant father, the curmudgeonly Walter Hobbs, played by James Caan. And the people of New York rise together to save Christmas. What could  be better?

What makes it better is the juxtaposition of the routine life of rushing and commercialization next to Elf's unendingly hopeful nature. (And it is funny.)

Good stories have a strong plot. I strongly believe that the most important element of a seasonal story is to give readers hope by showing the characters doing something positive to help others. And succeeding, of course. 

Romance and mystery fiction are two adult genres that seem to explode with holiday stories each December. Just look at the covers floating by at a retail site. Pick an author you like, and see if they have a Christmas spirit story. I've taken to rereading Karen Musser Nortman's A Campy Christmas, which is one of her campground mysteries. The usual characters get snowbound and take on a different task. Someone ends up better for it.

If this year is more stressful than usual for you, read or watch a story you remember fondly, or pick up something new. The Christmas season can offer hope.

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Elaine Orr writes four mystery series and whatever pops into her head. Check out her books with holiday cheer or learn more at

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