Christmas-themed things can be a bit of a landmine for storytellers. It’s pretty easy for them to veer into cliché or maudlin territory, and a lot of the familiar themes and plots have been written to death.
That doesn’t mean you can’t get inspiration from the holiday season, though. Here are some prompts that can get your brain going on some stories in the Christmas spirit.
Reality television is one of the more decried entertainment genres. And, sure, it’s got its flaws. I’m not going to claim it’s high art—but I do enjoy watching it. Competition-style shows are my reality genre of choice, and I’ll gladly watch people do just about anything if they’re competing on a TV show while they do it: cooking, designing clothes, modeling, doing drag, surviving in the wilderness, making piñatas, you name it. They don’t even need to be that good at it. Honestly, sometimes it’s better when they’re not.
I also do feel like this content has value for a writer, and I’m not just saying that to justify the hours of it I’ve consumed. Here are three lessons that storytellers can learn from reality TV, arguably better than from any other television genre.
I recently finished watching the Netflix miniseries The Fall of the House of Usher and thoroughly enjoyed it. It had everything I like in my horror: a dollop of creepiness, a dash of humor, and a high body count and gore quotient (also Mark Hamill as an evil lawyer).
While there’s a lot to discuss about Fall of the House of Usher—I may do a future blog post on the panoply of Poe references if the spirit so moves me—the thing that most impressed me was how well it pulled off two simultaneous and complementary tropes, what I’ll call “inevitable demise” and “cruel and unusual death.”
These are often found side-by-side in horror movies. Most frequently, at least in my experience, they show up in slasher films, usually ones that are either intentionally campy or are just plain not that good. This isn’t coincidence. These tropes are difficult to pull off with any kind of storytelling grace. When paired, they tend to end up in narratives where subtlety and depth weren’t ever on the menu.
If you look at the dates on the posts here, you’ll notice a bit of a gap: I took the last couple of weeks off while I was on a trip to Oaxaca, Mexico. Normally I still do things like post blogs and whatnot when I travel, and I did still do a bit of work and a few other creative career type things during the trip. Unlike my usual working-on-the-road excursions, though, I wanted this trip to feel a smidge more like an actual vacation.
I struggle to take breaks as a rule, largely because I genuinely like to work. Having literally nothing to do is not my idea of a good time—I can handle it for a day or so, but more than that and I start to get antsy. This is a good thing for a freelancer most of the time, but it also makes me prone to epic burnout if I’m not careful about keeping my life in balance.
I’m a big fan of workshopping, and I’ve talked a few times in the past about how important it is for writers (especially fairly young or new writers) to get outside eyes and opinions on their work. I also find the other side of that equation—providing creative feedback to other people—to be a valuable exercise, giving you a chance to identify what you find works and doesn’t in other people’s writing so you can apply those lessons to your own writing.
That said, I also know that both giving and receiving creative feedback can be an intimidating prospect for those who haven’t done so before. So I thought it would be helpful to share some tips, based on my 10+ years of participating in workshop groups.
One of the cool features of publisher databases like Duotrope, The Grinder, and Chill Subs is that they give real-world data about journals, like the average response time and acceptance percentage. This info doesn’t come from the publishers, but from submitters who use the submission trackers on these sites.
The response time part of this is usually pretty helpful. Even if there are only a few reported responses, you can get a sense from them of how much the journal’s response time varies, and a rough time-frame—at least whether you’ll be waiting a few days, a few weeks, or a few months.
The acceptance ratio can be a trickier wicket, however. When you’re looking at this kind of data, having a small sample size can dramatically skew the results. Who you’re sampling to collect that data makes a difference, too.
Editing a literary journal gives me a unique insight into the publisher’s side of the process. Even so, though, that’s just one journal, and while I’ve read for a few others in the past, I also know that each market has its own unique process for reviewing submissions and deciding what to publish.
Luckily, a lot of publishers are also very open and transparent about what they want to see from submitters. One great place to find this info is using Duotrope’s Editor Interviews. For anyone who’s not familiar with Duotrope, it’s a searchable listing of presses, journals, magazines, contests, and other places publish creative work, and is a handy tool for figuring out where to send stories and poems.
I’m not a person who gives all that much credence to the idea of star signs. I can see some logic in the idea that when you’re born shapes aspects of your personality but not enough to ever choose partners or make other decisions based on this info.
That said, I’m very much a Virgo. I also identify strongly with the Vulcans on Star Trek, and for many of the same reasons. Which got me thinking: with the plethora of different species that have graced the screen across the Star Trek universe, there has to be one that aligns with all the other signs, too.