Monday, December 19, 2011

It is remarkably hard to write a non-trite Christmas story

I had an idea that I would try something new this year and try to write a Christmas story. It turns out that, in the short story format, this is very hard.

Of course, the short story format is an enormous challenge to begin with, but add in the complication of the sentiment and sentimentality of Christmas, you can either go sweet and twee, or you can go dark and maybe just end up wallowing in an obvious bit of cynicism or horror that really doesn't get anyone anywhere.

One of the challenges that Hollywood faces, that I've become acutely aware of, is that the message of Christmas is a generic "believe" or "fill yourself with the spirit of Christmas", but what one is to believe, or how one defines the spirit of Christmas (or what that spirit should then encourage one to do), is never really explored.

As I mention this time of year, I totally love the bizarro movies that play on the Hallmark and Lifetime movie channels endlessly this time of year.  They're low-budget, they make no sense, they appeal almost entirely to the Jean Teasdale inside all of their viewers, and often have highly questionable internal logic.

But the Hallmark and Lifetime movie channels have steered around the particular challenge of creating new stories by using the same basic stories over and over.  Woman must overcome distrust (some earned, some not so much) and learn to love on Christmas.  A Scrooge riff.  And, lately, lots and lots of movies about Santa's children, usually about them in the everyday world and learning to love the owner of a small, adorable business.

My favorite Christmas stories of the non-Matthew or Luke variety tend to be the classics, the stuff I grew up on, which is part of the tradition of Christmas.  Its a ritualistic holiday, where we repeat the same actions every time, and those are considered "traditions".  Erecting a fake tree is a tradition for me.

So, too, is watching some version of A Christmas Carol, or reading the book in some fashion (the book is the only bit of Dickens that doesn't make me wish for a quick death).  Of course It's a Wonderful Life isn't just a favorite holiday-time movie, its a favorite movie in general (all about the goodness of community-driven bank bailouts).  Both are, of course, pretty dark.  Some noir scholars even try to claim It's a Wonderful Life falls under the umbrella of the genre, and they have a pretty strong argument.  Plus, it has Gloria Grahame.

The Peanuts Christmas Special, Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown includes the rejection of societal convention.  Rudolph is about rejecting the different among you until the mutation proves a benefit.

One supposes Frosty is pretty jolly throughout, but that special also sort of sucks.

Really, only A Christmas Story doesn't go dark and yet totally gets me every time.  It also taps directly into the way I think so many of us who grew up pre-internet and computers dealt with the world in those baffling youngish years when the whole year seemed to revolve around how soon we'd get to Santa's arrival.

So I tried my hand, and it didn't go anywhere.  I went left, I went right, I zigged and zagged, and nothing.  Christmas tales are hard.  Knowing what works for me, I went dark immediately, from the first two sentences, and never could figure out how one wraps it up.  How do you give it the ending that a Christmas tale needs?  The glow of anticipation, quiet and wonder and a chance at redemption that a Christmas story needs?

Its a little beyond my faculties.

Anyway, I don't know.  Any particular Christmas story favorites you can think of?  And why?


Anonymous said...

particularly like the story told at the end of the movie _Smoke_ by Harvey Keitel's "Augie Wren" character. if you haven't seen it, here's a vid link:

cardboardbelts said...

You should read Capote's "A Christmas Memory" if you haven't already. It's short, and I think it possesses a good mix of sweet and bittersweet emotions. I'm curious about what you think of it.

The League said...

Its been, literally, decades since I read the story. I believe I read it for school. I remember the plot vaguely, but I do remember the impression it left on me, and recall liking it quite a bit. I should dig it up.