Monday, April 8, 2013

World Building A to Z: History and Holiday Traditions

This month, I'm sharing my observations on world building and setting in a variety of stories.

History: History, or even suggestion of a history, can drive the plot and set the tone for a story.

In Curtis Sittenfeld's AMERICAN WIFE, the history of Alice's choice to end an unwanted pregnancy as a young girl comes back torment her when she becomes First Lady of the United States, and her husband, the President, nominates a conservative justice to the Supreme Court. 

In Joyce Carol Oates' short story, THE LOST BROTHER, Carole is a single, middle-aged woman who lives in a lonely world. She longs to reconnect with her brother after over 20 years of lost contact. The history of this brother's deviant and disturbed behavior foreshadows the ending when the siblings finally reunite. 

In HOLES, the history of Elya Yelnats' unkept promise to Madame Zeroni sets the stage for Stanley and Zero's friendship generations later. The history behind Kissin' Kate Barlow's loot is tied to the boys' forced labor at Camp Green Lake.

HOLIDAY TRADITIONS: I feel that holidays spring from a need to remember history and that traditions come from a need to keep certain aspects of our lives predictable. 

Here's a 13-second clip from 30 Rock where Kenneth describes an unusual holiday tradition: 


Can you think of other stories where the history of a world has a direct impact on the story?

What are some fictional holiday traditions? 

Do you and your loved ones have any special holiday traditions?  (Here's mine: I bake for my neighbors during the holidays. Nothing too unusual.)

22 comments:

Empty Nest Insider said...

It's so generous of you to bake for your neighbors! I loved 30 Rock, and am sad that it ended. Cute clip.

Julie

Ghadeer said...

I think almost any good book should have a back-story of the history of characters that comes up at some point to reveal its consequences.

Nick Wilford said...

History is a hard thing to work in without being infodumpy. I think it's good to keep readers guessing and drop clues cunningly, and also like in your examples make any history directly meaningful to the main plot.

John Wiswell said...

I can't recall its name, but in Patrick Rothfuss's Name of the Wind there is a striking holiday where everyone dresses up as demons to play in the streets. Everything about it was fascinating, and I came away only wishing the main character had partaken.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

The first thing I thought of regarding holidays and traditions was the Festivus episode from "Seinfeld" about a million years ago. :)

Elsie Amata said...

I have to agree with Madeline - the best fictional holiday is Festivus. It was the first thing I thought of when you asked. "A Festivus for the rest of us!" =)

Ruth Schiffmann said...

These are great examples, Cynthia. Thanks!

We used to have a lot of different holiday traditions - things we did when the kids were small. Many of them have fallen away now, but some remain.

Melanie Schulz said...

This wasn't where I thought you were going with this; initially I thought you were going to discuss historical novels. But history in a story... I like to leave hints of it here and there.

Mark Means said...

History helps when we can take lessons from it, but harms when it dredges up our past mistakes.

It's powerful, for sure.

Pat Hatt said...

Festivus was the best I've seen, popped into my head first too. And yeah they are a way to try and keep things predictable.

Lynn Proctor said...

baking for your neighbors---now that's a wonderful way to celebrate life's special days :)

Jen Chandler said...

Found your blog thanks to the Challenge! I love the title of your blog, by the way :)

This theme is wonderful! I love when books have holiday traditions in them. They make them more real and enjoyable.

Nice to "meet" you!
Jen

Julie Luek said...

The character of Kenneth on 30 Rock cracks me up. Fun clip. Great stories highlighted too.

Mina Burrows said...

I try so hard with holiday traditions. I don't see my family enough so my hubby and kids have to make our own traditions. We have fun though.

Kathy said...

I am big on holiday traditions!!

Kathy
http://gigglingtruckerswife.blogspot.com

Carol Kilgore said...

I see others already said Festivus. Great to meet you on Jennifer Shirk's blog!

Kimberly Gabriel said...

I loved American Wife and Holes. Great post!

Cynthia said...

Thanks for sharing your comments, everyone. I watched a lot of Seinfeld back in the day, and now I will see if I can find the episode on Festivus somewhere.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

My wife and I have made some of our own holiday traditions over the years.

Jennifer Shirk said...

Those are good examples.

I love holiday traditions. We open one gift on Christmas Eve, we have some Polish/Lithuanian food, I have to make tons of cookies, and ALWAYS do Christmas Eve with my side if the family. :)

Julia King said...

My family isn't particularly traditional, so I plan on instituting a bunch of great traditions when I have my own family.

Lynda R Young said...

I play poker with the family on Christmas day... and never on any other day of the year, lol. I have no idea how it started.

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