by James Scott Bell
’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.”
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:
- Are you enjoying telling the story?
- 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.
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!