Wednesday, March 21, 2012

3 Unique Ways to Incorporate Holidays Into a Novel

This isn't a time of year when holidays are predominant in our minds. But with last Saturday being St. Patrick's Day, I recently got thinking about all the different holidays we celebrate every month. (August is the only month of the year without a federal holiday.)

And they can play a key role in our novels as well. Here are some ideas to freshen up your story:

1) Turn a holiday into a deadline. We all know how effective the "ticking time bomb" effect can be. Why not ramp it up and pair it with a holiday that holds significance to the characters?

Sure, you could always do the kiss at midnight on New Years Eve. But what about something less obvious, like Ash Wednesday? What if your character is an FBI agent who's chasing down a Ponzi scheme that patterned itself after a popular TV show? But the agent is giving up TV for Lent, which starts in two days, and he needs to unlock the code before Ash Wednesday?

2) Play up the quirks of lesser-known holidays. Remember earlier when I mentioned every month has a federal holiday except August? Chances are extremely high that a holiday will fall during the timeframe of your novel, whether it's a popular day or a lesser-known one.

Anybody seen the movie Leap Year? What if your character's birthday is February 29th and they only get an actual birthday every four years? How can you play this up in your book? Or what about federal holidays when the post office doesn't deliver mail? What if your character mails an important payment, but it arrives a day late because of Presidents Day?

3) Incorporate holidays with wardrobe. Although these may not be major players in your novel, they can add authenticity and quirks that set the stage for conflict and characterization.

We can all think of costume parties where guests' identity are concealed. Or what about a misfit teenager who forgets to wear green on St. Patrick's Day and shows up at school as the outcast? Or what about the family who for 20 years has taken a group portrait on Christmas Day in matching red sweaters, but on Year 21, the "perfect child" shows up in all black?

The idea behind all these points is this: Be mindful of the timeframe of your novel and be aware of the holidays that may take place. Are there ways you can incorporate them into your story to add depth and conflict? You never want it to be forced, but you may just find that missing piece that will make your novel shine.

Let's talk...What sort of holidays have you incorporated into your novels? Have any lesser-known holidays wormed their way into your stories? What fun twists came to mind as you read this post?

*St. Patrick's Day photo from FreeDigitalPhotos.net
**Mail photo by digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
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Sarah Forgrave is a stay-at-home writer-mom who feels blessed to pursue her calling and passion. She writes contemporary romance for the inspirational market and is a contributor to the webzine Ungrind.

To learn more about Sarah, visit her personal blog at:
http://www.sarahforgrave.com/blog

25 comments:

Joanne Sher said...

What a great post, Sarah! This sparked some (duh) ideas for me and my biblical fiction WIP. Haven't even THOUGHT to incorporate any of the feasts - or even the Sabbath - into it. THANK YOU!

Beth K. Vogt said...

Such a creative post, Sarah -- and something I don't think about often. I'm working on book 2 ...hhhmm. What holidays are happening in my time frame?

Sherrinda said...

What? No holidays in August? Well, we should make my birthday a holiday!!!

You had such GREAT ideas for incorporating holidays into a story. Seriously, your creativity is impressive. Like Beth, it has sparked some ideas!

Melissa Tagg said...

Oh, way fun! I really haven't thought too much about holidays, so this is sparking all kinds of ideas for me. My brain is racing...okay, gotta go write the ideas down.

Thanks for the inspiration!!

Lindsay Harrel said...

Great ideas here, Sarah! I sort of incorporated Labor Day...my characters went swimming...and Thanksgiving. I like what you said about using the holidays as part of the plot, though...hmmmm...

Jessica R. Patch said...

I loved this post, Sarah! I've used Halloween, Fourth of July, and Christmas for holidays in my mss. The more obscure holidays...great idea!

Jessica Nelson said...

I'm horrible with putting holidays in my stories. I should work on that. Great post, Sarah!!

Keli Gwyn said...

I've used a number of holidays in my stories. My debut novel includes the 4th of July. And yes, there are some fireworks between the hero and heroine. =)

Karen Lange said...

These are great ideas, Sarah! I need to keep them in mind. Thanks a bunch!

Sarah Forgrave said...

Joanne, It's so easy to forget, isn't it? I get so caught up in the story sometimes I forget to think about when it's happening. :)

Beth, If your book is set in Colorado, I would love to see a peek at winter (like your vlogs). The snow looks absolutely magical. :)

Sherrinda, Yes! I hereby declare your birthday a federal holiday. Except we'll make the post office stay open so you get birthday cards in the mail. :)

Sarah Forgrave said...

Melissa, I love to make brains race. You just made my day. :)

Lindsay, Labor Day is a great one to include. And I've always wondered, what exactly IS Labor Day and why do we celebrate it? Things to ponder (or Google)... :)

Jessica, Thanks! I've got some fun ideas for Halloween in my next wip. The wheels are turning... :)

Casey said...

Fun post! I love the idea of giving yourself a holiday for a deadline. :)

Julia M. Reffner said...

Great ideas, Sarah and many I would not have thought of on my own.

One of my favorites is my brother's birthday. He was born in the hour that doesn't exist. Before as much computerization and the hospitals were in the process of switching all the clocks. One record says he was born at 2:00 am, another at 3:00. One of my characters shares his birthday trait :)

Sarah Forgrave said...

Jessica N., Thanks! I don't think stories necessarily suffer from lack of holidays, but they can sure be spiced up if used right. :)

Keli, Ooohhh, I can't wait to read about those fireworks. :)

Karen, You're welcome! Glad you found it helpful. :)

Sarah Forgrave said...

Casey, Oh yeah, deadlines can be more than tax day, right? :)

Julia, Oh wow, very interesting about your brother! I'll admit, the Leap Day idea wasn't original to me...One of my best friends in high school was born on Leap Day. Interesting all the different scenarios that can happen, isn't it?

Sarah Forgrave said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeanne T said...

Sarah, what a creative post. And BTW, I love what they did with the holiday in Leap Year (the movie). :) My story begins during the Christmas season. I'll have to see wht other holidays I can highligt and use in my story. :) Thanks!

Valerie Comer said...

Fun idea, but as the mom of a Leap Day baby, I'd like to point out he gets a birthday every FOUR years, not seven! He turned 28 this year, on his 7th birthday.

Sarah Forgrave said...

Jeanne, Isn't the movie Leap Day so fun? And the setting is gorgeous! Happy holiday hunting. :)

Valerie, Oh my goodness, how embarrassing! I'm so glad you corrected me. I'll go in and fix my blunder right now. :)

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Fun post! I love incorporating holidays into my stories. I've used Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July and in my newest story I think I'm going to actually have a Christmas deadline. Fun! I think your idea about a Leap Year birthday is awesome! You totally got story ideas swirling in my head :)

C0 said...

Both Halloween and Thanksgiving Day provides two of the turning points in my WIP, since holidays are the days where Manifestations, spirits of human emotions, are the most numerous.

It sort of wreck my timeline, but I'm a little OCD about getting the dates right.

Mary Vee said...

Didn't read all the comments above, but thinking some stories that take place on international soil could incorporate their holidays as well.
Good ideas, Sarah:)

Sarah Forgrave said...

Cindy, I can't wait to see what all that swirling produces. :)

C0, I know all about OCD, LOL. And your OCD readers will thank you. :)

Mary, So true! After I posted this, I thought of my Canadian friends who celebrate Thanksgiving in October. There could be some fun multicultural conflict between holidays too.

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

this is a great list sarah. my mind's spinning on how you could have a whole novel rotate around a lesser-known federal holiday. hmm. :)

Sarah Forgrave said...

Jeannie, LOL, I'm sure all that mind-spinning will lead to brilliance.