“If I could work my will, every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!”
–Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
The words are in our heads, firmly established. Dickens, in his novella, A Christmas Carol, created one of the most poignant works to live on through the ages. I can’t imagine the start of Christmas without this wonderful tale in one form or the other.
When writers ask me what they can do to meet the reader face to face on their pages, I use Dickens as an example. He managed to check ALL of the emotional boxes with his writing. Familial relationships: Fan and nephew Fred. Check. Personal relationship: Belle. Check. Friendship: Marley. Check. His lack of humanity came in the form of an entire family: The Cratchit’s. Particularly Bob, his employee, and the man’s son, Tiny Tim.
He was rich, he had wisdom, though it seemed he did not, and he was capable. So why was his life in such shambles? The relationships were all wrong. He felt betrayed—by Belle (even thought he was the betrayer), taken advantage of—by Bob (though he respected Scrooge all along), and left behind…alone—by his sister Fan (she had no choice in death). Everything worked against him, even the system. After all, he paid his taxes, but still, the do-gooders wanted more from him. More!
Dickens managed to tug at every single heartstring. He didn’t miss one beat when it came to relationships. He forced us to feel Bob’s pain, the pain of anyone who works hard day to day but simply cannot make ends meet. A man who must deny his child’s health needs in order to keep food on the table. Dickens insisted we walk with Scrooge through memories so intolerable, Scrooge would rather sleep away his depression than face it.
Dickens visited many of the schools for poor children. It’s said that’s where he got the idea for A Christmas Carol, seeing firsthand what the poor had to endure inspired him to pen the novella (1843) we now all take for granted as Father of all Christmas stories.
Wringing each and every emotion from the reader is what has kept A Christmas Carol, in my opinion, the number one fiction Christmas story ever penned.
So you ask what you can do to bring life to your stories? Get into the characters’ heads, hearts, and experiences. Take the reader on a walk that makes them laugh, cry, and want to do more for his or her fellow man.
Take a walk with Dickens. You’ll be all the richer for it.