Elizabeth: Characters and Christmas

2008-xmas-dsc_0498As I mentioned in last week’s post, I spent a few days recently at the Happiest Place on Earth (Disneyland), taking a digital break and doing a little mental refresh.  The weather was good, the fireworks were spectacular, and it was great to disconnect for a little while.  Now that I’m back and the holiday decorations are up (mostly), it’s time to work on my manuscript.

Though I don’t have a daily word goal this month like I did in November, I’m trying to follow Jilly’s advice and to make sure my story doesn’t get lost in the holiday / year-end crush.

Right now I’m focusing on getting to know my characters a little better.  I thought I knew them fairly well as they moved through Act 1, but by Act 2 I realized that knowledge was a little too superficial.  Yes, I know who they are and what happens to them during the story, but I don’t quite have their character arcs nailed down as well as I’d like to and I’m still trying to flesh out some background details.    We’ve talked about “character” on the blog many times.  The posts here, here, and here provide some practical exercises for learning about your characters, and there is a good post here that talks about character arcs.

One thing I’ve always found helpful, when trying to get to know my characters better, is to think about how they would act in everyday situations.    Since we’re in the midst of the holiday season, I’ve been trying to uncover how my characters feel about the holidays.

My heroine, Cassie has a strained (at best) relationship with her family.  She’s intelligent, competent, and focused on her job.  Her apartment may have a kitchen, but picking up take-out food is more her style.  Not likely that she’d spend the holidays baking cookies or hosting holiday parties.  It’s more likely that she’d volunteer to work on the holidays (in order to avoid seeing her family) or dig her battered hiking boots out of the closet and head for the hills.  There might be a string of twinkly lights haphazardly draped around a window or something in her apartment (who can resist twinkly lights?), but that’s about as festive as she gets.  She finds big family gatherings confusing and a bit unsettling.

My hero, Nicolai, is very different.  He’s from a big Greek family (think along the lines of My Big Fat Greek Wedding), where the holidays were always a big deal, filled with food, family, noise, and traditions.  Even though he might only be in town temporarily, his apartment would be decked out for the holidays; possibly because one (or more) of his family members had come and decorated for him.    Although his family drives him crazy at times, he loves the holidays and finds Cassie’s bah humbug attitude and her relationship with her family to be baffling.  She’s completely different from the type of females he grew up with.

Now I’m off to take Nancy’s recent advice and write some back-story scenes for Cassie and Nicolai to get a better idea of when and how their attitudes were formed.  I can’t wait to see what else I discover about them.

So, how do you think your current characters feel about the holidays?  Are they scrooges, merry elves, or something else entirely?

8 thoughts on “Elizabeth: Characters and Christmas

  1. Oooh, my breath is taken away by the thought of having the kind of family that would swoop in and decorate my home for the holidays! I’d be half joyful to have it done, and half sad that I didn’t get to do it myself! I may have to dig out some decorations and do up my daughter’s place, and see what happens (-:. She’s going away for the weekend on a school trip, so it would be a fantastic idea (-:.

    My characters seem to tip-toe quite gently around the whole Christian theology thing. Even Santa Claus is somebody they respect — but from a distance, preferrably. The guy was a saint, after all.

    The change of the year thing would be big, though, and there are lots of natural aspects related to the depths of winter. Icicles, lights, and plenty of fattening foods. Olivia would be big into the plants (hello, poinsettias! Great big banks of them in the living room!), and Jack already did his ice decorating. Nixie would also be very big on a gala celebration of visuals (lots of colors, lights and tinsel). Thom . . . makes a punch that will knock you for a loop. Maybe he’s in search of a family that will come and decorate his house for him. Oh, his winter drumming is also something to spend a cold winter night listening to!

    • Michaeline, sounds like your characters are very well suited. Love the idea of “a punch that will knock you for a loop” – sounds like a good choice to add to the holiday celebrations.

      Decorating your daughter’s place sounds like fun. If you get a chance to do it, let us know how it goes. I wouldn’t mind an elf or two to help me do a little decorating myself, or maybe just the pre-decorating cleaning.

  2. “…a punch that will knock you for a loop.” That might be glögg. I think I’m going to make a batch of that this year. I wish all of you lived closer so I could share it!

    I tend to actively avoid holidays in my writing, because unless they directly impact story, I’d be too distracted by the (literally) shiny things. But I am planning to write a novella set at Christmas in the English countryside to wrap up my ‘Harrow’s Finest Five’ Victorian romance series. I’m looking forward to seeing the community that will be built through the first novella and five novels come together to witness the final couple falling in love, complete with mistletoe, carriage rides in the snow, crackling fires in the hearth, and Christmas delicacies. Next year at this time, I might very well be trying out Victorian Christmas cookie and candy recipes. All in the name of research, of course!

    Also, through the writing prompts on this blog, I discovered that part of Nicky O’s story (the Nordic Noir) will happen over Christmas in Copenhagen. The very long, dark nights, high winds, and rain storms of winter in Denmark will be a good backdrop for this darker kind of story, and Nick’s dark mood.

    • I’d be happy to help out with that Victorian Christmas cookie and candy work – all in the name of research, of course :-). Your Christmas novella sounds like a great wrap-up for the series. Can’t wait to hear more about it.

    • Oooh, Glogg! They are selling something hot this year in convenience stores in Japan. It’s not wine but grape juice, although I think it’s some sort of Chardonnay grape juice or something, and they add spices to it. Altogether nice and lovely!

      Do let me know about your Victorian candycane recipes. It is sometimes very hard to get a proper amount of peppermint candy canes. They either come in fruit-flavors, or plastic boxes of 100. So, I’ve made some with a modern recipe that uses corn syrup. They come out very well (for some percentage of the time), and it’s so much fun to make them! I think taffy-pulling must have been something like this. I remember once I over-cooked them, and the white part was the most beautiful golden color . . . .

  3. I love the idea that Cassie and Nicolai’s feelings about Christmas are so wildly different. I bet you’ll get some great material from following those threads.

    Personally I’m with Cassie, because I have a dislike of organized celebrations. I really, really don’t like being told what to do, what to wear, what to eat, when to do it. Fortunately my husband is like-minded so we don’t make a big deal about Christmas, or New Year’s Eve, or Valentine’s Day.

    My current story is a fantasy so the celebration is most likely to be a winter solstice / new year type festival. Alexis was raised in a monastery, so there would be special prayers, and ceremonies, perhaps a midnight celebration. The monks have a choir, so there would be plenty of music as well as reflection on the year past and the one to come. Kierce is part of a tightly knit family. His sister likes pretty things and would decorate their house. His mother is good with plants and flowers and would make wreaths and bowls of preserved fruits and spices and pine cones, so the house would smell wonderful. The men are soldiers who appreciate the luxury of a warm home and a real bed and good food, so they’ll be chopping logs, clearing snow and hunting for game. They’re also engineers and inventors and they adore the women in their family so they’ll be working on making clever presents and surprises. The family will include Kierce’s men and other people from their extended community and they’ll all enjoy a low key but very fun, traditional celebration.

    • Jilly, the celebration for your current story sounds great. It strikes a nice balance and I like the winter solstice aspect. The engineers/inventors sound like my kind of guys – who wouldn’t like someone who “adore(s) the women in their family” and can make “clever presents and surprises.”

      As for Cassie and Nicolai, their wildly different feelings about Christmas really highlight some of their basic differences. I’m having a great time following the threads and figuring out how they can be woven together.

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