I’ve been thinking a lot about rituals.
Not Satanic or Wiccan rituals. Sorry, orthodox Catholic. No, I’ve been thinking about family rituals, the daily, monthly, yearly, or whatever. Things we do to mark special occasions, or simply the things we DO.
There’s a line in Taylor Swift’s new song, “Begin Again”, that has stuck in my mind. She’s singing about meeting a new guy, and he tells her about the movies his family watches “every single Christmas.” And we have those movies too. Possibly much different ones than the song dude’s family, but it wouldn’t be Christmas without Ralphie in “A Christmas Story”, or the Grinch, or the Griswolds. And how can you celebrate Christmas without Happy Birthday Jesus cupcakes, or eggnog, or that way-too-rich fudge that always sticks to the aluminum foil?
Those are some of our rituals. And our characters would have their own rituals, too. Maybe you’ll never mention it in your novel, but they should be there, brimming in the character’s backstory. Maybe they rode the train to the city every week before Christmas, the better to do their shopping. Maybe they carved faces on the winter’s solstice log (since characters can be pagans, too) and then burned it while merrily getting buzzed on honey wine. Or maybe they didn’t celebrate anything, since they were Scrooge’s parents, and their children’s ritual was to press their faces against the window to catch a glimpse of the wonder and beauty outside, seemingly forever locked away from celebration themselves.
It isn’t a prerequisite to good writing, but a solid character has rituals like those in his or her background. Invent one and a whole new side of your character may be revealed. Maybe he hates horses because his brother was trampled to death in the dirty snow, one bitter cold Christmas eve. Maybe your character lives in a world without Christmas, but they celebrate the burial of an ancient evil god by tossing sooty rocks onto a pile outside town, then burning a bonfire and singing happy songs of triumph. Whatever it was, it shaped your character, made them who they are, and might inform a part of your story that you never really thought about.
So, what do YOU do for Christmas? And what does your main character do?