Learning from the Silver Screen

I have a love/hate relationship with the holidays. It’s my fault, I admit it. I have an idolized vision of what the holiday should be about.  Family and friends gathered around the fire place while toe-tapping tunes play in the background and we’re all eating the delicious and beautiful treats I’ve made in the kitchen.

Yeah, right.

I grew up in south Louisiana so the only way we enjoyed a fireplace (if you find a home with one) was to crank up the AC. And I’ve yet to meet a Christmas cookie I could not burn, usually while setting the kitchen on fire along the way.

But one thing does hold true for me each season: holiday movies. Like everyone, I have some favorites and while watching I can find a lesson in each movie that I think will work for fiction writers. Here’s my top three movie favorites and the things I take away from each of them.

It’s a Wonderful Life – George Baily is the epitome of a hero to me. Self-sacrificing, family oriented, willing to stand up to the villain for those he cares about. He was also willing to take a knee to the villain for those he cares about and that’s heroic too. But the lesson I take away from this Hollywood classic is this: You can’t torture your hero too much. Look at poor George. He loses his hearing in one ear saving his brother. Gets beat up by his boss for saving another kid. Sacrifices his college dreams (not to mention his honeymoon) for the family business. Sacrifices his travel plans for his brother. Then time and time again he gives until it hurts. The thing that George misses, however, is it molds him into a man that others will also sacrifice for. He learns the lesson at the end, but still, all the torture and mayhem that plagues his life does make you think his guardian angel has been asleep.

Home Alone – Kevin is a little spitfire throughout the movie, coming up with the weirdest and funniest ways of dealing with the obstacles life throws at him. Who can forget those booby traps he uses to save the family home from the would-be burglars? What I learned from Kevin’s story is that you can do just about anything in a book if you have the right motivation. Kevin wants to save the family home from the burglars but he is, after all, a kid. He uses the resources he has at his fingertips to thwart the robbers. Sometimes those resources are internal – fortitude, stubbornness – and sometimes it’s those at his fingertips – from Matchbox cars to a very fuzzy tarantula that still gives me nightmares. But it all made sense when Kevin did it because he was using what he knew. He took his ordinary world and make it work for the situation.

A Christmas Carol – regardless of which version you watch, Ebenezer Scrooge is the perfect Grinch. From Scrooge, however, I learned the power of the mentor. Scrooge has a long way to go to become a hero and if it were not for the three ghosts that enter his life he would not be able to make the journey to becoming someone we can like. Not every character will be heroic at the opening of the book, and even if they aren’t a full-out Grinch, it’s important to surround them with people who will help them grow and evolve into the person you want them to be at the end of the book. These mentors present challenges and opportunities for growth that may not otherwise be experienced by our hero or heroine. They can also get away with things that may be out of character for our hero or heroine, giving the character the chance to learn a valuable lesson vicariously.

What stories resonate with you at the holiday and what do you use in the story to help you as a writer?




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