Thursday, December 19, 2013

Seasonal Books

I discovered yesterday that there's a key difference between screenwriting and novel writing. In screenwriting, you can't use summary to skip ahead. Once you start a scene, you're committed to showing everything that happens until the scene ends. You can sometimes use montage to telescope multiple scenes, but you can't really skip from the start of a scene to the end. This came up in the turning point scene in this story, where the heroine has the opportunity to speak up and get herself put on a new account team that will advance her career while also getting in the way of her music career. In one life, she realizes that she can't commit to this, so she remains silent, gets given a different, lesser assignment and realizes she'll never get ahead. But after having that "nightmare," she speaks up and gets on the team, which moves her up in the world while also creating friction with her bandmates. I'd planned this to happen at a staff meeting. The key things happening would be the boss laying out the opportunity, the heroine starting to speak up but hesitating, her rival jumping in, and the boss giving the rival the assignment. In a novel, I'd have put in a sentence after the rival spoke up to the effect of "other people offered their ideas, then the boss paused for a moment to consider" before the boss gave the assignment. In a script, I couldn't do that. I had to show the whole meeting. But I hate sitting through meetings in real life. Putting a whole meeting in a script early in the story would be the kiss of death. And yet it seems weird to have the staff in the conference room for a meeting, then end it after one person speaks up. I rewrote the scene so that the heroine is rushing in late to work, still in her coat, when she's waylaid by her rival, who snarks about the lateness, and then the boss comes up in a "oh, there you are, just the people I'm looking for" way, presents the opportunity, the rival speaks up, and she gets the job. With just those people present, I don't have to worry about whether other people should be talking and I can keep the scene short.

Now, for a holiday post. Every year, I talk about my struggle to find Christmassy reading materials. This goes back to something that started accidentally. In my first year to be freelancing, I joked about how I needed to have an office party. At the med school, our office party had been a nice lunch outing. At PR agencies, it was mandatory "fun" in which we had to go out to some place on a Friday or Saturday night, being thanked and "rewarded" by having to give up our free time, which I always hated because those parties were seldom really fun. I decided that I would take an afternoon to put on Christmas music, have hot cocoa and cookies, and read something just for fun, and that would be my office party. I bought a new book just for the occasion. I hadn't planned it this way, but the book turned out to take place at Christmas time. It wasn't marketed as a "Christmas" book. It was just a book that happened to be set against that backdrop. I enjoyed that so much that I set out to try to repeat the experience, only it's very hard to find books like that. I'm not really a fan of romance novels, let alone the (usually trying too hard) designated Christmas romances. I don't want Christmas to be a central theme, just part of the setting. I guess you could say I want something like The Holiday in book form. It could have taken place at any time, but putting it at Christmas added some conflict and atmosphere.

That first book I found was A Promising Man by Elizabeth Young and was about a woman who meets what seems like the perfect man, until she learns that he might be the new boyfriend of her high school nemesis. Does that "don't steal your friends' boyfriends" thing apply to people who tormented you but now stay in touch as frenemies? The heroine and the guy meet when she's out Christmas shopping, then she's planning an "orphans" Christmas in the city with her roommates and other friends, since her parents are going to be out of the country, but then everyone else gets other plans and she ends up going with the guy to his family's dinner. We get London shopping and an English village. Yay!

I've been less successful since then. When I've found books that seem to be set at the right time of year, the authors have the nasty habit of skipping past Christmas entirely. Or there's something else about the book that annoys me.

Some others that have worked:
The Rose Revived by Katie Fforde -- there's an extended sequence in which one of the three heroines helps a guy who inherited his family's farm (and it's practically medieval farmhouse) get ready to host his extended family for Christmas, though the book takes place over a longer span of time.

Life Skills also by Katie Fforde has some pivotal scenes taking place at Christmas (and bonus, at Oxford, so I can easily visualize it), but there are some things that irk me enough that it doesn't entirely work as a Christmas book.

Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos is beautifully atmospheric and seasonal, but has some sad, depressing stuff, too, and it makes me cry, so it takes the proper mood.

Bridget Jones's Diary can also work because it has some pivotal holiday moments.

It's a lot harder to check for seasonality when I have no local bookstores and can't flip through a few pages to see when a book takes place, and the library's selection is rather random.

I do re-read A Christmas Carol and the Christmas section of The Wind in the Willows every so often.

Connie Willis has some good Christmas material in some of her novels. The Christmas portions of Doomsday Book are lovely, but the rest of the book gets pretty grim. There are also some nice Christmas bits in the Blackout/All Clear two-parter, but again, there's a lot of other stuff that doesn't quite fit the mood. Her short story collection, Miracle makes for good seasonal reading. I particularly like the story about Dickens' ghosts getting seasonal jobs at a bookstore.

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