It is Christmas time and what better event to attend than the theatrical production of Charles Dickens’ beloved story, A Christmas Carol. Fifteen family members attended with me this year in what has become an annual family tradition.
This moving story rejuvenates my Christmas spirit because, as Dickens intended, it speaks to the heart about love, charity, kindness, the plight of the poor, and human suffering, while inspiring all of us to make our life count.
At intermission, I gazed around the ornate Pabst Theater in Milwaukee and let my mind drift. How do you write a timeless classic? How did Dickens pen a story that strikes a chord in the heart and soul of everyone that reads it generation after generation?
A Christmas Carol is still the bestselling Christmas book of all time. Watching this story come to life reminds me of eight writing tips we can glean from Charles Dickens and his beloved character, Ebenezer Scrooge. I have shared them here before but they bear repeating.
1. Write a story that resonates. Dickens hit on all the elements that create a good story. A flawed main character (Scrooge). Timing (Christmas time). Setting (London). Values (kindness, forgiveness, repentance, restitution). Uniqueness (The Ghosts of Christmas past, present and future). Conflict (Scrooge’s internal struggle to choose between love or money). Crisis (His impending death). Climax (His moment of decision). Resolution (His change of heart). Conclusion (Restored relationships, Tiny Tim survives).
2. Start with a memorable character. Who could be more memorable than irascible Ebenezer Scrooge? We love him despite his defects.
3. Write what you know. Writing 101 says “write what you know.” Dickens knew London; he lived there. He knew poverty; his parents were delivered to debtors’ prison while he, at 12, worked in a warehouse for six shillings a week.
4. Write with passion. Dickens’ sister-in-law wrote that she had never seen Dickens write with such fervor than when he wrote A Christmas Carol. In just six weeks he wrote a story for the ages. Within two months of its debut, eight theater companies adapted and mounted the story on stage. Critics hailed it “a national institution” a year later. It would become his most memorable work. He was 31.
5. Let your subconscious do some of the work. Like so many writers, Dickens got away from his work—to do his work. His sister-in-law once reported that he “walked about the black streets of London, fifteen or twenty miles, many a night” while plotting this endearing story.
6. Introduce an innovative element. Dickens used common literary techniques with flashback and flash-forward devices. Yet, he did it innovatively with the Ghosts of Christmas past, present and future.
7. Maintain a disciplined writing schedule. Dickens wrote steadily and fervently and completed this classic in six weeks. His masterpiece was published on December 19, 1843.
8. Give the reader something to chew on. This is perhaps the crowning achievement of this classic tale. It gives us pause every time we read it or see it. A question always lingers in my head. How can my life benefit others?
These are just a few writing tips to remember every Christmas from Charles Dickens. But what can we learn about being a better writer from crusty old Ebenezer Scrooge?
We can learn how a complex, multidimensional main character has the power to capture and captivate an audience—for generations. And, we can learn that although Charles Dickens made Ebenezer Scrooge, it’s also true that Ebenezer Scrooge made Charles Dickens.
Happy Holidays and Happy New Year.
The Writer’s Refuge blog is a place for writers, like you, to break away from your daily routine and for just a few minutes find insight, inspiration or simply a word of encouragement.
You may contact Jim Magruder at: email@example.com.