Today is July 4th, Independence Day in the United States, and only a few days past Canada Day. Holidays are great opportunities to get some much-needed R & R or to spend time with our families, but I’d never really considered them as fertile ground for story until I attended a conference class on script writing.
Although the presenter at the conference had written scripts for Hollywood, script-writing was not the limit of her experience. She pointed out that holidays can add an important dynamic to a script, novel or play and can increase the story's longevity. For treatments in which the holiday is the backbone, the story cannot stand without it. Think "It's a Wonderful Life," Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," or "Holiday Inn" (which spun off 2 others: White Christmas & Easter Parade). We watch/read these and others like them every year which makes them lucrative. For many people, they become family traditions. Ray Bradbury's novel, "The Halloween Tree," is one such novel that follows a group of boys as they race through time to save a friend, all the while learning about the origins of the observance. Without Halloween, there is no story. Many popular authors write Christmas or Valentine's Day novels or novellas because they sell so well and make great gifts.
The presenter also challenged us to think of other stories that perhaps weren't so obviously about the holiday, but would be greatly impacted by its exclusion. "While You Were Sleeping" with Sandra Bullock was one of these. Setting the story around Christmas and New Years makes us sympathetic to the main character's loneliness and lends credibility to her motives. We especially want her to get both the guy AND his family because her loneliness is magnified by the holiday season. But the story is not so steeped in the holiday that you need to wait for Christmas to watch again.
Sometimes, rather than setting the story on a holiday, it's enough to include the holiday in a scene to show, for example, relational dynamics, the passage of time or a character's motives. In "Catch Me if You Can", Frank Abagnale calls Tom Hanks' FBI character on the phone on certain holidays which provides Hanks with some of the information he needs to finally catch him. (BTW, here is a very interesting disclaimer by Mr. Abagnale about the book and movie here.) There is also a pivotal scene in Anne Tyler's "The Accidental Tourist" set at Thanksgiving dinner which gives a revealing look into their family's dysfunction and manipulation. The Christmas scene in "Little Women" gives us a taste of Christmas during the Civil War and insight into the character of the young women. I included scenes involving the family at the holidays in "Tuesday Night at the Blue Moon" because holidays are highly significant and challenging after the the death of a loved one.
Have you incorporated any holidays in your writings, and what was the purpose? Can you add any books/movies/plays to the list and why do you think the holiday was included in them?