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4 Writing Techniques to Borrow from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol

4 Writing Techniques to Borrow from Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol

Since its publication in 1843, Charles Dickens’ novella A Christmas Carol has turn into one of the crucial iconic vacation tales—maybe even probably the most iconic—in Western literature. Not solely has it been tailored numerous occasions for the stage and display, in reimaginings and retellings, however it’s also credited with traditionalizing most of the Christmas celebrations we take pleasure in as we speak.

Writers of all types have a lot to study from this vacation basic. Uncover the highest 4 classes you’ll be able to apply to your craft, no matter what style, age group or type you’re writing for.

1. A wealthy and distinctive setting and tone could make your story extra memorable and immersive.

As I discussed earlier than, Dickens’ story is essentially credited with crafting our modern concept of a “traditional” Christmas celebration and the general aesthetic related to it. That’s to say, A Christmas Carol fairly actually reworked a few of celebratory practices detailed within the novella into vacation staples, together with most of the seasonal dishes we take pleasure in, in addition to the prevalence of household gatherings, dancing, video games, generosity, and the festive Christmas spirit.

Dickens managed this by leveraging a setting and tone that infectiously captured and extra broadly popularized a revival of the Christmas vacation that was rising in Victorian English tradition on the time. The setting, in fact, is Victorian London, however Dickens’ brings us a London ringing with seasonal spirit:

For, the individuals who have been shovelling away on the housetops have been jovial and filled with glee; calling out to each other from the parapets, and from time to time exchanging a facetious snowball—better-natured missile far than many a wordy jest—laughing heartily if it went proper and never much less heartily if it went flawed. The poulterers’ outlets have been nonetheless half open, and the fruiterers’ have been radiant of their glory. There have been nice, spherical, pot-bellied baskets of chestnuts, formed just like the waistcoats of jolly previous gents, lolling on the doorways, and tumbling out into the road of their apoplectic opulence.

Apoplectic opulence. How’s that for a story serving to of Christmas cheer?

The setting is additional enhanced as a result of it modifications with Scrooge. Early within the story, the streets are described as “Foggier yet, and colder. Piercing, searching, biting cold.” The bleakness even follows the awful character: “Scrooge took his melancholy dinner in his usual melancholy tavern.” The setting is as forbidding because the protagonist. However by the top, each Scrooge and his environment have accomplished a tonal 180 thanks to his night time of forcible self-reflection:

“Running to the window, he opened it, and put out his head. No fog, no mist; clear, bright, jovial, stirring, cold; cold, piping for the blood to dance to; Golden sunlight; Heavenly sky; sweet fresh air; merry bells. Oh, glorious! Glorious!”

Dickens was notably expert at setting distinctive scenes like this, however he’s far from the one writer whose settings have a particular “flavor.” Recall how straightforward it’s to image the sights, smells and sounds at Hogwarts, for instance, or in Rivendell, the West Egg, the Hundred-Acre Wooden, or Sleepy Hole.

Whereas some readers choose minimal descriptions, there’s little question that authors who spend the time spinning tonal parts which are peculiar to their narratives—with extra grandiosity like Dickens or extra sparingly like Milne—are sometimes fondly remembered for it. As an additional advantage, parts like these additionally have a tendency to do a few of the legwork for these in search of easily-adaptable tales for display and stage.

2. The Rule of Threes is a mighty helpful storytelling system.

It’s in books, fables, jokes, slogans, advertisements, performs, films, speeches, the Declaration of Independence. Three little pigs, three musketeers, three sensible males, three acts, signing in triplicate, liberté, égalité, fraternité.

You understand it, you adore it—it’s the Rule of Threes.

Dickens’ three well timed Christmas ghosts are among the many most well-known makes use of of the Rule of Threes, and for good cause: Every one marks a special degree of progress in previous Ebenezer’s night time of emotional transformation.

Not solely that, the ghosts illustrate using the Rule of Threes as a structural system.

Nitpickers right here may level out that there are, actually, 4 ghosts, provided that Jacob Marley warns Scrooge of his impending journey. They could additionally level out that the novella is split, not into three acts, however 5 “Staves,” named after a musical employees, or the set of 5 horizontal strains and 4 areas that every characterize a unique pitch in musical notation. As a result of it’s a Christmas CAROL. (Oohhhhh…)

However the ghosts and the Staves nonetheless match into the Rule of Threes.

Their affect on Scrooge serves the story as a micro three-act construction within the macro three acts of the bigger story: Marley’s warning wraps up the primary act. The Previous, Current and Future ghosts and their corresponding three Staves occupy the majority of the novella because the second act. Every brings a unique lesson as we construct up to Scrooge’s climactic revelation that his humbuggery will lead to everybody he is aware of celebrating his impending demise (not to point out the way-more-tragic demise of an cute child with a incapacity) until he embraces a serious angle adjustment, which he does in Stave 5, or Act three.

In fact, this doesn’t imply that you’ve to embrace three ghosts or different on-the-nose symbols in your story so blatantly. However there’s so much you are able to do with threes in a narrative: Having your MC endure three trials can train them a well-rounded lesson. Even loosely following that three-act construction, into which Joseph Campbell’s 17 steps of a hero’s journey neatly match, may help you type your characters’ trajectory right into a coherent starting, center and finish that may fulfill your readers. Having two aspect characters to accompany your MC may also help you create stability, suspense and richer perspective. The chances are infinite.

three. “The intimacy of insight” helps when demonstrating character progress, and may make an unlikeable character extra sympathetic.

As I’ve stated, one profit to the three-part journey is its suitability for unfolding plausible character progress and alter.

As you understand, Ebenezer Scrooge is the protagonist of this story. He’s additionally an entire asshole—at the very least, at first. And in contrast to many difficult antiheroes and sympathetic jerks from fiction, he’s not notably likeable both. Everyone knows, in fact, that he decides to cease being an entire asshole on the finish, and that the story is, at its core, about what leads him to that transformation. (Trace: It’s the charitable and familial spirit of Christmas.) “It’s the journey, not the destination,” and all that jazz.

Clearly this is able to not work if all we noticed what the opposite characters within the story see: Ebenezer goes to sleep an asshole and wakes up not-an-asshole.

Subsequently we’d like what David Corbett just lately referred to as “the intimacy of insight.” In his piece on writing antiheroes and unlikeable characters, Corbett explains that “we tend to judge less harshly characters who look at themselves and their behavior clearly, honestly and in-depth.” The intimacy of perception provides us the window-into-the-soul required to understand that Holden Caulfield and Dexter Morgan are greater than a whiny little shit and a serial killer.

Scrooge appears impervious to empathy and incapable of self-reflection initially of the story. So as an alternative of initiating a transformative journey himself, he have to be whisked away on a dreamy journey by which self-reflection is hammered into his thick cranium by magical Christmas ghosts.

And we, the readers, should see this performed out. As a result of we’re granted the “intimacy of insight”—that’s, we’re in a position to see Scrooge regularly study why being a big jerk to his overworked worker with a disabled child is dangerous, and why he would in all probability have a method higher time if he embraced the generosity and celebration of the vacation season—his transformation is plausible regardless of being fantastical.

4. Don’t be afraid to bend and mix genres if it serves your story.

A Christmas Carol is as a lot a ghost story as it’s a Christmas story. The truth is, its full title is titled A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas. And the primary phrases within the novel are “Marley was dead, to begin with.” (Heck of a method to begin a cheery vacation story, eh?) It additionally matches the invoice of a fable, a deconstructed hero’s journey, an instance of magical realism, and even a narrative of time journey, so to converse.

Dickens isn’t commonly known as a author of the implausible or magical. I wrote my undergrad thesis on his work, which required me to learn the overwhelming majority of his novels, and I might categorize his commonest story line as “Victorian orphan experiences a lot of dismal but oddly funny things and ends up mostly OK at the end.” Not a lot magic to be had there past the magic of his creative prose. Sometimes one other ghost will crop up, however they’re often much more mundane.

However for a narrative concerning the energy of the vacation spirit, Dickens busted out the fairy mud and jolly giants and grim reapers, embracing the incredible to create the Ghosts of Christmas Verb Tenses and their time-traveling hijinks.

Positive, you might argue that a lot of that’s in Scrooge’s dream-addled psyche, however this system wouldn’t make sense in a extra practical story like Oliver Twist or Bleak Home. For A Christmas Carol, it really works. Dickens might have merely had Scrooge go to sleep and dream of his previous, current and future with out the assistance of his colourful trio of spirits—nevertheless it’s their presence and characterization that makes the story one of the crucial memorable vacation tales ever informed.

Many authors worry that venturing too far past the conventions of a given style could make a ebook troublesome to promote—and that’s not solely inaccurate. But when the historic fiction story you’re telling is best served by tossing in some sci-fi, go for it! In any case, that’s how we ended up with the steampunk style. Many authors have discovered nice success from this system, actually: Douglas Adams mashes up comedy and sci-fi; Diana Gabaldon frames her historic romance with fantasy; Stephen King stitches suspense into all types of genres.

In case you haven’t learn or watched or listened to some variation of A Christmas Carol this yr I extremely advocate it. However this time, as you’re having fun with it, be careful for extra writing classes tucked inside this basic story—there’s much more to be discovered than what I’ve laid out right here.


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