Monday, December 7, 2009

The Ghost of Christmas Backstory

Tip of the Day: Books for Christmas! Sure, you know your YA and MG and even adult bestsellers, but you probably have younger kids on your shopping list. Check out the School Library Journal's Top 100 Picture Books. Something for everyone!

So I watched a LOT of Christmas specials this weekend. (We're Christmas crazy
in my house. Every room smells like pine and sugar cookies!) I began to notice that a lot of Christmas movies follow a pattern. They have a narrator ... who starts by telling us something strange and/or wonderful happened in the past. Then he brings us through the main character's entire childhood until we finally, finally we get to the main story. (I guess in the case of IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, the wonderful thing is about to happen, which is sort of an improvement on the pattern.)
Could you imagine writing a book like that? Okay, it can be done. TALE OF DESPEREAUX was written like that. But man, talk about pressure. Your main character has to be really unusual to get away with that.

ELF worked for me because the backstory was so funny (and I love Bob Newhart). And in IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, every selected instance from George Bailey's life is so bittersweet. And in RUDOLPH, well, we all know what's going to happen anyway and I can distract myself by wondering what the snow was made out of. (RUDOLPH has to be watched in High Def.)

But you know where the pattern gets really annoying? SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN. Santa was a baby once, did you know that? He learned to make toys, did you know that? Yawn! Also, he adopted a penguin who eventually got him arrested. What the heck? How does that fit into anything?

As a writer, SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN really irks me. Don't tell me it's just kids watching; that's the world's worst excuse for poor craft. That whole entire hour is nothing but backstory.

Dickens had it right. Get a ghost to take care of the backstory for you. You don't even have to worry about transitions!

So which Christmas special gets on your writer's nerves, and why?

-- Kate, Miss Perfecting the Pages


DeenaML said...

You are so right! I never thought of it that way but man. I'll have to remember to throw in some ghosts when I need flashbacks.

Kate Fall said...

I think Shakespeare was big on that too. Doesn't HAMLET start with a ghost monologuing some back story for us? So it's a long literary tradition.

Christina Farley said...

Good point. I hadn't noticed that about the backstory. But maybe I'm so used to watching them year after years, it's all become backstory!