Think back to your favourite novel, and you’ll probably discover a celebration of some kind, whether it’s a cocktail party, an eleventy-first birthday bash, a school feast, a funeral wake, a royal baptism, or a harvest festival.
It’s important to celebrate in life, and even more so in fictional life where gatherings can serve many purposes that further the plot, develop characters, and build up the story world. And unlike real life celebrations that we’ve planned, we’re happy when things go wrong in fiction!
A feast or party can be an opportunity to:
- Celebrate the success of an individual character, usually in an endeavour that benefits the entire group.
- Celebrate the success of a group of characters in triumphing over an obstacle or a common opponent.
- Celebrate a birthday, a coming-of-age, a marriage, a funeral or any other significant change in life status.
- Commemorate an important historical event.
- Celebrate the season, or another planetary event or alignment.
- Celebrate an important religious date.
- Celebrate the end of a period of hardship, such as drought, war, financial depression, or the school year.
- Celebrate an accession, coronation, usurpation or other occasion marking a shift of power.
- Celebrate an alliance.
- Celebrate a departure or a return, for example, to or from war, school, or a journey.
- Celebrate a sporting success.
As a writer, you can use a celebration in your story to:
- Slow the pace, and give characters (and readers) a chance to relax, especially after a period of high action or tension.
- Reflect on what’s happened. This is particularly in the Resolution at the end of the story.
- Build the story world by showing the reader what the characters consider important enough to celebrate, as an individual or a society.
- Develop the character arc by showing the character transitioning symbolically from one state of being to another. In particular, this is the case with coming-of-age ceremonies and celebrations.
- Build backstory, using the cycle of the seasons or years to reflect on past celebrations.
- Widen the field for social interaction among characters, so that the reader can see them outside of their usual, day-to-day activities.
- Ground the characters in their environment, by showing how natural events (positive, negative or neutral) affect them.
- Bring together characters who would not normally meet, in order to exchange information that furthers the plot.
Planning a Fictional Celebration
- Make sure the timing is right. Celebrations are most likely to take place during a lull in the action, often after an important goal has been accomplished or attained. However expedient it may be for the plot, it’s unlikely that the characters will celebrate if there’s something more important that they need to be doing, especially something urgent or threatening.
- Consider the celebration from the point of view of the characters who are planning it.
- How would they like to celebrate?
- What entertainments would they enjoy?
- How good are they at planning?
- How good are they at considering the guests’ needs and desires?
- What resources are available to them?
- How long will it take them to organise everything?
- Consider the significance of the celebration for the story or series as a whole.
- What change does it represent for the main character(s)?
- What change does it represent for the group or culture?
- How eager or able are they to accept this change?
- What do they need to learn or experience in order to be ready for what’s coming next?
- From our perspective, as writers, celebrations are often most useful when things go wrong, creating conflict and revealing rifts in the characters or their world.
- Who has an argument?
- Who doesn’t turn up to the party?
- Who arrives unexpectedly?
- Who leaves early?
- Who learns something they weren’t supposed to know?
- The repetition of a regular celebration can be an excellent opportunity to recap or reminisce, especially if you’re writing a long series.
- How do the characters feel when they remember the last celebration?
- Who is no longer there?
- Who is new?
- How has the location changed?
- How have they themselves changed?