Writing Lessons from Charles Dickens’ “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.

  • 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, being able to feel sincere remorse and changing are also present.
  • Use activities to create a foundation of reality. Throughout A Christmas Carol, 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, for example, we see characters going to school, learning a trade, working going through an engagement and breakup and attending parties. Not everyone does these things exactly the same way or feels the same way about them, so they aren’t universal, per se, but they 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!).
  • Remember that time matters. Keeping a good pace in a story or other work is a challenge for any writer, amateur or professional. It’s important to do, though, 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 and back to the present. Even though Dickens already has dibs on the three ghosts idea, you can get his effect with techniques like flashback, dream sequences and present dialogue that has the past as the topic.