Five Holiday Tips for Writers Writing About Their Families

If you are writing about your family, gathering for the holidays can be a real test of nerves—especially if you have not yet told them you are writing about them!

It can also be a golden opportunity, great for your work. You have a chance to interview your “characters,” test your assumptions and freshen your dialogue.

Herewith, five ways to alleviate the dread by using these encounters in your work.

  • Write down your expectations. You may be certain than your aunt always reacts one way, always says the same thing. Write those assumptions down before you her so you can test them out at holiday encounters.
  • Ask questions. You are in a unique position for a writer: you can ask questions of your “characters.” They may surprise you when they respond. You can ask about their pasts, their opinions, their values. You may not use this information in your work but it can stimulate you to take the story in a new direction
  • Listen carefully. The best way to write good dialogue is to listen carefully for the way people phrase things.
  • Pay attention to your body. The body always tells the truth. If you are with a character who angers you, note how that anger or that fear shows up in your body. These descriptions will enhance your storytelling, taking reaction out of the mind and into the physical.
  • Take notes. Writing down what you see and feel gives you some sense of control in circumstances where you may have felt ignored or like a victim. You can take out your notebook while things are going on to remember you have a point of view and do not have to be swept into someone else’s drama. If anyone asks you what you are doing you can say truthfully, “It’s so special to be together at the holidays, I don’t want to miss anything.”