3 Writing Lessons from “A Christmas Carol”
Some works of literature are so monumental that it’s almost difficult to imagine that they once didn’t exist. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens is a perfect example. This work can make your work monumental, too, because it has excellent writing lessons hidden between the lines.
1. Go for universal appeal.
Dickens’ tale works largely because he follows one of the major rules for making a story lasting–he incorporates universal themes. One of these is the idea of the struggling employee, personified in Ebeneezer Scrooge’s worker, Bob Cratchit. People might not always have a boss as miserly as Scrooge, but most people today work for a living and understand what it means to try to meet business expectations. Like Scrooge, people try to acquire as much money as possible, equating it with success and happiness. The universal ideas of finding what really matters in life, being compassionate, and being able to feel sincere remorse are also present.
2. Use activities to create a foundation of reality.
Dickens uses common activities to thread his story together. For example, both Cratchit and Scrooge work. As the tale progresses through the visits of the three ghosts, characters go to school, learn a trade, go through an engagement and breakup, and attend parties. Although cultural approaches to these types of activities might vary, the activities themselves are common enough that people can envision them. That makes everything else in the story seem real, even if some of it is a bit preposterous (a ghost in your bedroom? Three? Come on!).
3. Remember that time matters.
Keeping a good pace in a story or other work is important because pace decides whether a reader continues reading. If the pace is slow, a reader won’t stick with the piece. If the pace is too fast, the reader might lose out on nuances or get confused. In A Christmas Carol, Dickens takes the ultimate control of pacing and time by letting Scrooge travel through past, present, and future. Even though Dickens already has dibs on the three ghosts idea, you can get his effect with techniques like flashback, dream sequences, or presenting a dialogue that has a specific point in time as the topic.
Bonus writing lessons
A Christmas Carol‘s main idea is that you can choose to change. This applies generally, but also to the attitude you have to work. Think about the way you see your writing right now. Is it all about the money for you? The competition? Or do you do it to bring yourself and others joy? Are you stingy with your voice? Be honest. If you don’t like what you see, make the decision TODAY to be different.