Merry Writing and a Snappy New Year

by James Scott Bell

Bob Cratchit’s Christmas Dinner, Edwin Austin Abbey, 1875

’Tis the season to be jolly.

Or is it?

One view is offered by Mr. Scrooge:

“Every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.”

Thanks, Eb.

At the other end of the spectrum is his clerk, Bob Cratchit:

Then Bob proposed: “A Merry Christmas to us all, my dears. God bless us!”

Which all the family re-echoed.

“God bless us every one!” said Tiny Tim, the last of all.

So what’s it gonna be? You gonna be merry or what? (Why do I sound like I’m grabbing your shirt?)

My favorite dictionary is Webster’s New Collegiate (1960). I have two copies, hoping somehow to preserve the language from the unrelenting lingual onslaught of these latter days. I’ll be the one standing on a hill, waving them around, shouting, “Try and get ’em! Just try!” (Please bury me next to a small town library.)

Here is the definition of Merry:

adj. 1. Pleasant; delightful; of sounds, etc., sweet; of a wind, favorable. 2. Mirthful. 3. Amusing; funny. 4. Marked by gaiety or festivity.

Who doesn’t think we need a little more merriment these days? In life and in writing.

I’ve quoted this before but it’s worth another look:

In the great story-tellers, there is a sort of self-enjoyment in the exercise of the sense of narrative; and this, by sheer contagion, communicates enjoyment to the reader. Perhaps it may be called (by analogy with the familiar phrase, “the joy of living”) the joy of telling tales. The joy of telling tales which shines through Treasure Island is perhaps the main reason for the continued popularity of the story. The author is having such a good time in telling his tale that he gives us necessarily a good time in reading it. — Clayton Meeker Hamilton, A Manual of the Art of Fiction (1919)

How do you get that merriment into your writing? One way is to get so invested in your characters that you can’t wait to see them live and breathe. I believe it was Dwight Swain who advised that whenever your tale is getting to be a slog, do some character work until you get excited again—and you always will.

Another method: Pause occasionally in your plot and ask How can things get worse? That’s how we novelists really get merry—by coming down even harder on our characters!

Another thing you can do is pitch your story to a friend or loved one. I don’t mean the 30-second elevator gab. I mean tell them the story right up to where you are in the manuscript. Try to notice two things:

  1. Are you enjoying telling the story?
  2. Is your audience rapt? Or are they squirming around like they want to check their phones?

Use the answers to these questions to fix what needs fixing. That brings its own kind of joy.

And a Snappy New Year.

snappy, adj., 1. Snappish. 2. Colloq. Full of snap, or life, briskness, pungency, smartness, etc.; as, snappy conversation.

Apply this to your social media. We know that we have to be “out there” in some fashion. Agents and publisher expect it. So do readers. The temptation is to blunder around without thought or plan, thinking that the world is waiting with bated breath to hear whatever jumps to the top of your head five seconds ago.

It isn’t.

Revisit Sue’s advice on these matters. As she notes: “Always conduct yourself as a professional, but don’t hide the real you while doing it. There’s so much garbage and negativity on social media.”

So be brisk, snappy, funny, pungent. If you share an opinion, do it with style and even a little humor. Be someone who’d be a welcome guest at any gathering.

Don’t be a dullard, a dolt or a diva.

Hey, how’s that for a snappy ending to TKZ 2021?

Thank you for all your support over this last, challenging year. I speak for all of us at TKZ when I say your hearty and helpful comments create a welcome oasis in the vast internet wilderness. It’s a pleasure to commune with you each day on all things writing and publishing.

We now take our annual two-week hiatus. May this season be full of abundant blessings for you and yours.

See you right back here on January 3, 2022!

33 thoughts on “Merry Writing and a Snappy New Year

  1. Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a wonderful new year.

    Our Kronos system at work got ransomwared so I’m coming off of a 60-something hour week (I lost count) trying to get everyone paid.

    But I’m on vacation now – hallelujah!

  2. Thanks Jim. I think that humor — be it bright or dark — covers a multitude of sins, though bad writing isn’t one of them.

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and yours!

  3. Great post, Jim. Merry and snappy. Love it. You wrote of the “joy of telling tales” and getting that merriment into our writing. Sometimes, when that joy is waning, I need to remember what gives me real joy, whether it is my roots, my anchor, my foundation, or my hope and optimism for the future.

    I hope that we can all find reasons for true joy in this holiday season, and hit 2022 with a heart full of merry and snap that overflows onto our pages as we write.

    Thanks, Jim, for the abundance of teaching and instruction you have given us over this past year. We truly appreciate it.

    Wishing you and yours a Merry Merry Christmas and a Happy Snappy New Year.

  4. Since you were having fun with words and the concept of storytelling, I confess that when I read this:

    “…Swain who advised that whenever your tale is getting to be a slog, do some character work until you get excited again—and you always will.”

    I thought you were going to use a rhyme, something like “whenever your tale is getting to be a slog, do something different and wag the dog.” LOL!!!!!! Wouldn’t have been appropriate to the point, but hey, it’s where my mind went.

    BTW, thanks so much for mentioning The Storymatic. I of course couldn’t resist getting the box & I posted a 2-part challenge to some friends. 1 creative challenge that they could do easily by posting a pic of something creative they’d worked on in 2021 and the 2nd challenge was to see whom I could get to participate using The Storymatic. As of when I checked yesterday I’ve had one taker on the 2nd challenge and I sent them their cards. I’m very curious to see what they come up with and thought the card combination they drew had lots of possibilities. And now that I am finally in the midst of some time off, I’m prepping to see what short story emerges from my own card draw. The Storymatic is going to turn out to be a great tool for jump starting the creative engine.

    Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all. May your creative wells be refilled to abundant and overflowing in 2022.

  5. A wonderful post to round out the year, Jim! Be merry in your writing and snappy in your conservation is a great way to be in 2022 and forward. We just, finally (I can’t believe it’s taken until now) watched the first two Thin Man movies and what merriment and snappy wit they are! Not only did they have a delicious combination of crackling, snappy 1930s dialogue and mystery situations, they were filled with merriment.

    Thank you for all your wonderful, inspiring, and educational posts, and likewise to all of the KZB contributors and commenters. This is my favorite website, and has really shone in 2021. Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Here’s to an even better 2022.

    • Thanks, Dale, and how wonderful to see those Thin Man movies for the first time! The chemistry between Powell and Loy is unmatched in a movie series, along with Asta the scene-stealing dog.

      We’re glad for your regular and substantive contributions here, Dale. See you in 2022!

  6. Speaking of joy, this year at TKZ has been delightful for me. It’s like being in the sandbox with my friends and learning how to build a better castle.

    Wishing everyone at TKZ a Merry and Snappy holiday season, and I’m looking forward to beginning another adventure with you all in the new year.

    God bless us every one.

  7. “How can things get worse?” That’s a dangerous question to ask in real life these days b/c we usually find out the answer almost immediately.

    But that is also the best question to ask as we’re writing fiction, esp. in crime genres.

    A very Merry and Snappy Christmas to you and your family, Jim! You’re the guiding light here at TKZ.

    Happy Holidays to everyone here at our favorite virtual gathering place. And a better New Year ahead full of good writing and good reading.

  8. So what’s it gonna be? You gonna be merry or what? (Why do I sound like I’m grabbing your shirt?) 🙂

    Merry, Jim, definitely merry. (You can let go of my shirt now…)

    And now we come to the emptiest 2 weeks of the year…TKZ holiday time. Not that y’all don’t deserve it, but what in tarnation will I do with myself in the early mornings until Jan. 3? Huh? Tell me that . . .

    Got it! I now have a Storymatic box sitting on my desk. Can’t wait to draw those first two cards.

    Thank you from the bottom of my soul for all the teaching and entertainment I soak up each day. I feel fortunate to have found this group of talented and wise encouragers.

    Christmas blessings to all of you, and a peaceful, productive New Year. 🙂

  9. A personal thank-you, Jim. I’ve been on a hardboiled research field trip this year which led me to your back yard where I read 8 of your craft books. Your voice is so present in the pages. Come to think of it – a merry and snappy tone. Thanks for helping me take the craft to a higher level! And a Merry and Snappy Christmas to you and your family – see you in ’22.

    • That’s high praise indeed, Garry. Thank you. Your energy and enthusiasm (not to mention your stories of grisly deaths) have been a most welcome addition to TKZ. Cheers for 2022!

  10. Perfect way to end the year, Jim. Happy holidays to you and yours! Thank you for the mention. I’m hiding from social media today while I bake and dance to Christmas music, full of merriment and joy. 😀

    See ya in 2022!

  11. Wishing everyone here at TKZ a festive, merry holiday celebration and an exuberant, happy beginning to the new year. I’ll miss you all until we meet in the prosperous, creative twelvemonth we’ll call 2022.

    Be well!

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