With Thanksgiving coming up in a few days and Christmas just around the corner, I'm starting to get really excited.
Family? Friends? Baking cookies? Christmas carols? Home........
I can't WAIT.
Now, I'm no expert, but I suspect that holidays exist for a reason. A holiday is a time to eat if you haven't been eating enough, sleep if you haven't been sleeping enough, laugh if you haven't been laughing enough. A time to relax. A time to catch up with people you love. A time to do fun things not becuase they're functional or they make money or someone else wants you to--but just becuase they're fun. It's a time to reflect, to sit back and look at the larger scope of your life. Admire it. Maybe re-evaluate it. Maybe reward yourself for it. A time to be thankful and hopeful.
We need holidays so we can recover from the ongoing stress of life. I find they also act as lights at the end of each little tunnel of work or school or what-have-you... They're something we can look forward to. They're a place in time where we can rest.
Holidays are just as important in fiction. They're not always literal holidays, though they can be. (Did anyone else always look forward to Christmas in the Harry Potter books?) They could also be totally unconnected with any formal holiday. For instance, getting snowed in to my house always felt like a holiday. Even seeming hardships, like power outages or minor illnesses can have the same effect. Or visiting a friend or relative--staying at my grandma's house always feels like a holiday to me. In such moments of calm and joy, characters and readers can rest, take a deep breath, and just enjoy life for a bit before things get difficult again.
I think our characters--and therefore our readers--long for these breaks from the pain of reality. We see it all the time in books. This is the "calm before the storm." This is the safe haven our characters can visit but not remain in forever.
This longing for peace creates tension in stories. Our characters find a little, temporary pocket of joy, but they're propelled back out into the world by the evils they've been called to defeat. And if they don't venture out into the world to defeat whatever they're fighting against, they run the risk of allowing their peaceful safe-haven to be destroyed. Along with this, however, comes the hope that if they do defeat whatever they're fighting against, their lives might be more filled by the peace, joy, and comfort they desire.
I know this tension is present in my own life, and I suspect others experience it too. I also strongly suspect that it is this very longing that causes us to pick up books and read them.
We've all heard a million times that you're supposed to give your characters "trouble." I agree. A story is, by definition, about a person in a hard scrape. I do, however, think that in order to reach its full potential, every story needs some moments of quiet happiness--some holidays, if you will. Such moments give our characters and readers something to love, something to live for, and something to hope for as the trials continue.