Write About the Holidays

26 Nov

Jerry and me with the Saguaros

What do Tucsonans do on their holidays?  Thanksgiving Day, Jerry and I climbed the trails in Catalina State Park along with hundreds of other people.  They weren’t there for the silence or roadrunners or coyotes or javelinas.  Holidays in Tucson are the grand excuse for the whole family to get out hiking — wishing Happy Thanksgiving to everyone they encounter on the trail.

Last year, we first discovered this tradition on New Year’s Day in the Tucson Mountains.  These trails are not gentle pathways; the grandparents, the moms and dads with a baby in the sling, and all the little ones climb up amazingly rugged terrain.  Once they reach the viewpoints they hand cameras to anyone who will point and shoot their happy group.

Thursday, after we returned from Catalina State Park, we put the turkey into the oven and read our books out on the deck.  Clear skies; temps in the low 80s.  See the photo below.  Lucky us!

Here’s a Writing Prompt

Holiday traditions are often memorable.  Janet Burroway in her book, Writing Fiction (see earlier post), tells a story of two picnics — one in which the weather is fine, the food is delicious, everyone gets along.  Ho hum.

Then she tells about the picnic when the blanket was spread on top of a nest of ants, there was no corkscrew for the wine, rain suddenly poured down, and during the dash back to the car, they were chased by a mad bull.

Which picnic is worth writing about?  Looking back at your own life, which holiday tradition or dinner is worth writing about?  The ones that had some disastrous element, of course.

So here’s the prompt:

Write about a holiday dinner or other tradition that has stuck in your mind for some reason.   Take us to your table with specific and sensory details — Name names like the mushroom dressing that Rebecca hates, Christopher’s buttery yeast rolls, Grandma Jan’s famous apple pie.  Give us all the smells.  Let us hear the ticking of the grandfather clock or the football game still on in the other room.  Let us see the faces of the people around the table, including the way they chew, or how they go to the kitchen to sneak more wine.  Let us hear some dialogue, especially the kind of talk that raises questions, creates tension.

A Bit About Craft — Powerful Verbs

Once you’ve written your holiday piece, go back and kill the adverbs.  Adverbs are weak compared to nouns and verbs.  Am I suggesting that we NEVER use them?  Not at all.  After all,  think of J.K.Rowling and Vickram Seth, author of A Suitable Boy, one of my favorite books.  They love adverbs, and they have certainly done well.  However, I think the rest of us should treat adverbs with great suspicion.

Why is that?

Instead of grabbing an adverb, let’s take the time to discover a strong verb – one that won’t need an adverb to make its meaning clear.  Let’s take the verb “to walk.”  At first, we’re lazy and use the following adverbs:  He walked briskly, slowly, haltingly, fearfully, quietly, erratically, despondently, crookedly, uprightly, evenly.  You can think of more adverbs, but don’t do it.  Instead . . .

Take a moment to replace “walked plus adverb” with one word that does the same job.  “Marched,” “sauntered,” “hobbled,” “tiptoed,” and so on.  Thinking up these new verbs takes brain energy, but your new verb shouts out specific meaning for your reader and your writing takes on the energy you gave it.  Besides all that, each time you replace a verb and an adverb with one strong verb, you save a word and lower your overall word count.

Time to soak up some sun.

Day after Thanksgiving, 2012

See you next time.

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3 Responses to “Write About the Holidays”

  1. Robin November 27, 2012 at 9:06 am #

    Terrific prompt and great holiday tradition! Adverbs make me crazy when I critique writing. I’m delighted that you suggest stronger verbs! Would you consider letting Sue publish your prompts in the SCBWI Oregon newsletter? I’d ask, but I retired from that chore. 🙂 Hey meanwhile, best wishes as you head into treatment.

  2. mfrances stilwell December 6, 2012 at 8:35 pm #

    Glad you and Jerry are in Tucson. Thanks for keeping in touch. Be Herrera and I went bck to DC adn virginia where we visited four ar t museums, ate turkey wiht her family and I joined mine in charlottesville area. My sister drive all teh way form Ohio to rendez-vous with me adn the cousins. Not strong verbs, but you get the idea.

    Frances

  3. Lynn Bain December 12, 2012 at 12:10 pm #

    Fun writing prompt – it got me thinking of LOTS of crazy Holiday memories. Now I’m waiting for it to get me writing 🙂 It just might.
    The Tucson sunshine sounds wonderful! And wow those Saguaros are huge!!!
    I miss you, Anne, but I’m glad you’re enjoying Arizona.
    Lynn

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