Happy Holidays

Let’s let the holidays guide our writing. The scene is Christmas day. Write a scene of a family gathering. Use the present tense and focus on describing action.

Let’s let the holidays guide our writing. The scene is Christmas day. Write a scene of a family gathering. Use the present tense and focus on describing action. Whether the scene is opening presents, or eating a holiday meal, or any other holiday tradition, depict it using descriptions of your characters’ physicality, and setting. That means their holiday sweater and the hutch that holds the china.

Include some dialogue. Note: You can use internal thought, but only sparingly, and only around the central conflict.

Maybe your characters don’t celebrate a holiday, then use that as your premise, depicting what they do instead and the way the cultural prominence of Christmas colors their activities.

SEE IT IN ACTION

In the initial minutes, everyone’s intentions are good—bright smiles, strong hugs, sincere exclamations of “Merry Christmas!” Dwayne Evanrude ushers his brood—daughter Millie, son Mark, wife Noreen—into the home of his younger sister, Dora. The home is a sagging Colonial that Dwayne can never help but think must cost a mint to heat in winter. And there it is: with that thought, the purity of the season is tarnished by long-standing sibling competitiveness, irrepressible. As the day progresses—Dwayne knows and everybody knows—grudges and guilt will arise, jealousy will flare among the child cousins over the lavishness of gifts received, and ill will in general will spike the festivities like rum in egg nog. These things are like snowfall in winter: inevitable.

Dwayne tries to forestall the personal collapse of his spirit by refusing the offer of a beer so early in the afternoon. Beer will only make him drowsy and less cheerful. Instead he sips a can of sparkling water whose dullness angers him as he eyes the plate of Russian tea cakes and almond bark that his sister has set out. His tongue longs for the numbing indulgence of sweats.

They all linger in the kitchen, like lost sheep. Everyone vying for primacy of grandmother’s sympathies.

The first fight breaks out when Millie chases the dog through the kitchen, bumping Aunt Dora and sending a dish of nuts scattering.

“What are you feeding her?” Dora asks. “That child is hyperactive.” Dora, a Social Studies teacher, is a naturalist and vehemently anti-sugar.

Noreen shoots a wide-eyed look at Dwayne as if he should interject. Without a thought, his hand shoots out and familiar peanut butter kiss cookie is in his mouth.

“Uncle Dwayne!” little Alice cries. “Not before dinner.”

“Sorry,” Dwayne says.