Have you ever thought about setting your story at a holiday or special event? Such a time is rife for all kinds of disruption and conflict, things on which a story thrives.
Major holidays upset routine. There are dinners to plan, gifts to buy, visitors to accommodate, and decorations to hang. Most of us are stressed and overwhelmed at holidays, especially if we have to do the planning. You can pretty much count on these for discord:
- Christmas: EVERYTHING is crazy
- Someone’s wedding: Also crazy (Sixteen Candles)
- A graduation ceremony: Rite of passage, the beginning or end of a huge conflict
- Birthday: A milestone one can either be a very good thing or a very bad thing
- Fourth of July (or some other national holiday): In a murder mystery, fireworks would make good cover for gunshots; I’m just sayin’. Roland Deschain, our favorite gunslinger, already pulled this off in The Dark Tower: Wizard and Glass.
In addition, various settings could have different holidays. England doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving (fourth Thursday in November); despite recent trends to accommodate expats, that’s a strictly American holiday. Guy Fawkes Day (November 5), a UK tradition, is not observed in the U.S. If your characters travel to another country, bank and business shutdowns could keep them from obtaining crucial information or services.
Incidentally, never go to Primark on Oxford Street in London on a bank holiday. Just don’t do it. On my way over to Piccadilly Street, I nipped in the front for two seconds and it took me fifteen minutes to fight my way out again.
Where these events happen holds additional importance. Say your character’s family celebrates Christmas, but this year, they’re not at home. Did something happen? Or has the family gone on holiday? What can the new setting do to unsettle the characters? Think about Home Alone. Remember all the problems Kevin’s mother had getting back to him after they landed in Paris?
If you want to blow things wide open, do it at a holiday or on vacation. Imagine your characters in a strange place–a hotel in a city with which they are unfamiliar, a misdirected flight to the middle of nowhere, or as Stephen King did in The Langoliers, a whole other dimension in space-time.
Now, whatever you’ve got brewing beneath the surface can erupt. (I know; I always go for the dramatic and / or horrible option, but hey–that’s how I roll.) Buried resentments? Bring ‘em on. A secret that would destroy everything they’ve ever dreamed? Go for it! Or, if you insist on being positive (groan), perhaps they have to tell someone something fabulous, but all the crazy stuff happening in the new setting keeps them from it.
Messing with your characters’ heads can be fun, muwahahaha. So if you want to shake things up a bit, a special occasion is just the thing.