Points of Light Christmas Edition: A Christmas Story
Hello and Merry Christmas readers. As we close in on Christmas Day and I prepare for a short holiday break, I find the need to end this edition of Points of Light on a strong note. It requires one of the best examples of strong writing I can think of, and for this season, there is only one piece that holds up along with A Christmas Carol and The Grinch. It is a simple tale of years past known simply as, A Christmas Story.
A Christmas Story is the childhood memories of author Jean Shepard, who narrates the film. The story focuses on his nine-year old self (here called Ralphie) and his quest to get a Red Ryder BB Gun for Christmas. Along the way, he deals with bullies, childhood dares, and his family, who each deal with plots of their own. As Christmas comes closer, we see Raplhie’s father win a ‘major award,’ his brother’s odd habits, a secret decoder ring, and a mental break that eventually lead to a surprising Christmas morning.
What Writers Can Learn: Common Ground, Reality
As the plot indicates, A Christmas Story is fairly disjointed. There are numerous small subplots along the way to Christmas morning, and not all of them are resolved. The film did not revive acclaim on it’s initial release, and was considered a sleeper film for many years. However, it is now considered a holiday classic, and is shown each Christmas in a 24-hour marathon on cable network TBS. So what is it about such a disjointed, fairly simple story that has given it such praise?
To put it simply, the very fact it is so simple and disjointed. The movie may be set in Shepard’s childhood of the 40’s, but the events that transpire are familiar to everyone. Everyone has stories about how strange and crazy their families were as a child, and Ralphie is no different. Watching the Old Man eternally struggle with the furnace and the neighbor’s dogs, or Ralphie’s mom trick her younger son into eating like a pig bring to mind our memories of the strangeness of growing up. The scenes of dealing with bullies, idiotic dares, and heroic fantasies are all reminiscint of the baisic nature of childhood and with Shepard’s narration, it is further enhanced. We remember our own childhoods watching it and fall into nostalgia that manages to ring truly, but differently for everyone who watches it.
However, the holiday element is never abandoned. For every piece of childhood remembered, we also see Christmas through a child’s eyes. Ralphie’s desire for his BB gun is the desire of everyone that every wanted that one special toy at Christmas. We relive our own desires through him, and remember our feelings of hope, disappointment and/or relief on the big day. But watching the quiet moments, like Ralphie’s family gathered around the tree also remind us of the togetherness and near perfection the holiday brought us in our youth. And because no CS piece would be complete without mentioning it, Ralphie’s reaction to the horrible gift of his Aunt Clara reminds us how much we had to fake smile during the holiday as well (and still do even now)
The strengths of this movie are how well it resonates for people of any generation. For a writer, this is a vital skill for anyone that wishes to write about their life or a specific series of events. Writers always need to convey something that readers can see in their own lives- a struggle, an emotion, a mindset, that brings to mind something that they have experienced. Even a half-elf warrior can struggle with common concepts like family and isolation. A man that can punch steel can deal with wanting to be like everyone else. And while this movie may not hit such deep notes, it reminds us of our own lives while managing to be its own entity, which is something a great life-story should be.
On that end, Merry Christmas to my readers, and I look forward to seeing you in the New Year.