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Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

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Posts Tagged: Christmas stories

embrace the inner psychopath, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, Christmas movies, writing tips

Embrace the inner psychopath. If I could only teach ONE ‘trick’ for writing great stories, it would be this: The moral codes that make us excellent citizens make us terrible writers.

We have to remember the rules change when dealing in the realms of imagination. Fiction is NOT life, rather it is an imitation of life. It is life in distillate form.

To paraphrase Alfred Hitchcock, great stories are ‘life’ with the boring parts cut out. Yet, so many emerging writers forget this.

Novelists aren’t just good with words, novelists excel at using words to create a STORY. This is why so many first ‘novels’ really aren’t novels at all. Because being good with words isn’t enough.

If it were enough, then chefs could perform heart surgery because they’re ‘really good with sharp blades.’

Being ‘good with words’ has to be refined. Good with words…HOW?

Prose and description so glorious angels sing does not a novel make. What makes a novelist is how we wield those words. Yet, here’s the catch. If we want to write stories readers can’t put down, then can’t get out of their heads, then cant stop talking about?

We must embrace our inner psychopath. If we don’t have one, then we need to train one.

Great Writers Embrace the Inner ‘Psychopath’

embrace the inner psychopath, writing tips, Kristen Lamb, Christmas movies

The terms psychopath and sociopath are easy to confuse, yet they’re distinctively different disorders. Sociopaths have an antisocial personality disorder, which often leads them to ignore social and moral rules that guide an ordered society. They understand right from wrong, just don’t care.

So where does the sociopath part ways with the psychopath?

It’s believed that psychopaths are a more extreme version of the antisocial personality disorder. Thus all psychopaths are sociopaths but not all sociopaths are psychopaths.

The psychopath is, thus far, believed to be incapable of forging emotional bonds, whereas sociopaths can. Thus, the sociopath might not have any qualms about emptying a stranger’s bank account, but he wouldn’t do that to his best friend.

Psychopaths would make no such distinction and would empty anyone’s account they gained (manipulated) access to. The psychopath isn’t guided by any sense of shame or guilt. He or she doesn’t hold back, and is not hindered by empathy or sympathy.

Back to writing.

Superb fiction is an exercise in sadism. Why writers generally creep non-writers out is because we have the imagination to inflict so much suffering and pain.

The non-writer doesn’t understand HOW we can do what we do, but they enjoy it nonetheless…and they just make sure to keep their eyes on us.

***Refer to my post, Thirteen Reasons Writers are Mistaken for Serial Killers.

Millions of people watch (and read) Game of Thrones knowing they are going to be tortured hour after hour…but they can’t get enough. And bear with me, because this goes for ALL great stories. We don’t have to write stories with rape, incest, cannibalism, and mass murder to still torture an audience.

Welcome to…

Christmas Chaos

For the writer psychopath, not even CHRISTMAS is safe. Think of all your longtime favorite holiday movies, the ones you watch year after year. What do they have in common?

They all involve chaos, mass mayhem and destruction.

There’s a reason for that. Without chaos, mass mayhem and destruction, there is NO STORY.

Who wants to spend an hour and a half watching a movie about a well-adjusted family getting along? #SnoozeFest

No, we want the GRISWOLDS! National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is about a man whose only goal is to have the most incredible Christmas ever…but his dream is systematically dismantled in increasingly awful ways.

embrace the inner psychopath, Kristen Lamb, editing, Christmas movies, writing tips

All of his dreams blow up in his face. His lights won’t work and when they do, he causes a massive blackout. His dream is to have the biggest best Christmas tree (good goal, noble goal), but the tree won’t fit in their house and then there is a squirrel and on and on. Nothing works.

Everything that can possibly go wrong goes wrong…twice. Then catches fire.

Christmas Vacation is funny, but it isn’t in my top five. I insist that Gremlins is a Christmas movie, yet Hubby doesn’t agree Gremlins is a Christmas movie (because he is wrong).

Then of course there is…

But, monsters taking over a town at Christmas and a hostage situation in a skyscraper are pretty obviously full of overt conflict.

So I decided to talk about the movies that are plenty tense, yet the conflict has more to do with people, their relationships to and with one another, and how desires and false idols collide.

My two favorite Christmas movies are ‘A Christmas Story‘ and ‘The Ref‘. I’m specifically mentioning these two because the screenwriters certainly knew how to embrace their inner psychopaths.

A Christmas Story…from HELL

A Christmas Story is all about a young boy in the 1940s doing everything humanly possible to secure the gift of his dreams, a Red Ryder BB gun. Every good idea he concocts blows up in his face. This poor kid can’t get a break.

I’d like to take a moment to mention that what separates the mundane from the magnificent has to do with VECTORS. When a writer embraces that inner psychopath?

NO ONE IS SAFE.

New writers very often forget to USE their other characters as more than stage props (plot puppets). Why A Christmas Story is SO fun is because mayhem strikes from every angle. Trauma sucker-punches everyone.

When the MC is only in a struggle against a singular antagonistic force, the story falls flat and becomes tedious. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Yet, in this holiday classic, Ralphie isn’t the only one who gets smacked. Dad wins a PRIZE he insists on putting in the front window, and he’s oblivious to his wife’s mortification.

Only one thing in the world could’ve dragged me away from the soft glow of electric sex gleaming in the window. ~Ralphie as an Adult

The one thing the whole family—but most especially DAD—looks forward to is the Christmas turkey and the days and days of leftovers to enjoy. But nothing is safe from a writer who’s embraced that inner psychopath. Not even the Christmas turkey.

But look how chaos and destruction hammers EVERYONE (not JUST Ralphie).

The Ref

Speaking of mass mayhem. The Ref is one of the few movies that can make even this Griffendork root for a ‘bad guy.’ Dennis Leary *fan girl moment* plays Gus, a cat burglar who robs the wrong mansion…and his partner abandons him.

With the entire city’s police force out hunting for him, Gus makes a snap decision to lay low by taking a seemingly nice family hostage.

Ah, but the tag line for this movie is genius.

They might be his hostages but what they’re doing to this guy is criminal.

Gus begins with a plan, a plan he’s executed flawlessly until it goes horribly wrong. What’s better is it just keeps getting worse and worse until the end when…catharsis. 

See, all the great movies about the holidays present us with the MC’s ideal then the STORY smashes that ideal to pieces until the MC, and those around the MC, realize they’ve missed the entire point of something (family, love, peace, holiday spirit, giving, etc.).

YET, what I want to point out is this. The characters have to endure the torment to get the golden fleece. They cannot suddenly achieve enlightenment and say, ‘A-ha! I’ve had this all wrong! The holiday season is really about X!’

If they did, we’d call foul, be supremely ticked and tell everyone to avoid this movie more than the kiosk barkers at the mall.

Don’t make eye contact. Whatever you do, DO NOT let her buff one nail.

If we watched ninety minutes of a beautifully decorated home (description) with perfect people, we’d feel cheated and ROBBED if nothing went terribly, obscenely WRONG.

Why? Because if the MC doesn’t rightfully EARN revelation, enlightenment, etc. it’s a CHEAT. The writer cheated, which is why we feel cheated. Catharsis is what great stories offer. Release.

The harder it is for the MC (and others) to get to and through Act Three, the more intense the cathartic experience…and the better the denouement.

All righty. So Psychopath 101.

Make EVERYTHING Hard…No, IMPOSSIBLE!

Exactly my thoughts…

As my friend and mentor, the incredible Les Edgerton taught me, ‘Nothing comes easily for your characters. NOTHING. Not even directions.’ Advice I used very literally in my novel The Devil’s Dance.

When Special Agent Sawyer asks my MC where the closest tire place is located, her response is:

What do I look like? Google Maps?’

One of the LARGEST problems I encounter with emerging writers is y’all are too nice. I was, too. Still can be (which I then go back and remedy…with a hammer).

Many new writers still possess a conscience and a moral code…and that’s a problem.

Moral compasses point to the Land of Nod NOT to the Land of Literary Legends.

I cannot count how many samples I’ve read where everyone gets along. If the MC needs something, he or she finds it with uncanny (and boring) ease. If an MC discovers she has magical powers, she learns to use them flawlessly and almost overnight.

NO! We need to make everything hard and seemingly impossible or ZZZZZZZZZZ.

***STAR WARS TRIGGER WARNING:

I know this is controversial, and is only my OPINION. Alas, one of the MANY reasons I wish the Star Wars franchise would just STOP is that, as far as I am concerned, the core storyline’ played out back in the 80s.

To keep trying to push the same storyline is making Star Wars more Space Soap Opera than Space Opera.

Seriously, the Star Wars universe is large enough to begin fresh instead of hiding leftovers in suspicious casseroles.

Why do I mention this? Because Rae learning how to use a light saber like a master with no struggle makes my left eye twitch. She didn’t have to EARN her skills. Yes, she was a master with a long staff, but seamlessly transitioning over to wielding a light saber with NO learning curve?

FOUL!

Which is why the training of Pai Mei in Kill Bill 2 is EPIC…

In fairness, Kung-Fu Panda got a rougher time than Rae.

The harder the MC has to work for the prize, the sweeter the victory. Even in Hallmark Christmas movies. Not even A December Bride can catch an easy break.

And yes, I did actually just write a blog that placed Kill Bill 2, Kung Fu Panda and A Christmas Bride in the same place at once.

#YouAreWelcome

Stop making everything too easy. Look over your WIP and search for spots where something was too simple…then throw a rock in it. Once you do that, then set it on fire.

Whatever the MC Wants, It Better Cost BIG

Humans don’t value free or easy. There’s a reason most parents have a back seat full of ‘free toys and games’ from drive-thrus that our kids have never even opened. If the MC wants something it has to COST something.

No, it has to cost EVERYTHING.

This is why writers must embrace the inner psychopath and steal, destroy or ruin everything our characters love. We’re doing it for their own good.

When we look at my opening example—Christmas Vacation—Clark Griswold has to give up his false gods/idols (what he believes makes for the perfect family holiday) and exchange them for the real deal.

In fact, this is a fairly common theme of all holiday movies. Likely why writers are constantly dreaming up new and improved ways to destroy Christmas.

The MC has a belief about what the holidays are really about…then the writer psychopath destroys everything in the MC’s life so they can see truth.

The story conflict (crucible) is what supplies our characters with insight they didn’t possess before we wrecked their lives. By the end of our torment, our MCs have new eyes and are able to tell the difference between fool’s gold and real gold.

KILL THE SHINY

Remember, we are embracing the inner psychopath, which means we can appear to care about our fictional friends. But we’re really using them. We only care what the characters can DO for us (or rather our story). This is one of the toughest parts of what writers—good writers—do.

We use various combinations of 26 letters to create ‘real’ people our audience loves, bonds with, and connects to…then we torment or kill those characters.

And this is tough. It’s like being a farmer who has to name all the animals that will end up on the table. It can suck. We can find ourselves getting attached to the characters because we created them from nothing.

We breathed life into letters–EVEN Q and X!—and created a LIFE. If our creations are funny, noble, kind, loving, and self-sacrificing?

It is because WE made them that way.

In life, bad things happen to good people. But, in fiction, the worst possible things happen to even better people.

If your story feels sluggish, my advice is to kill your shiny. If we don’t, the story WILL suffer.

We fall in love with characters so we start ‘helping’ them by making life too easy. Instead of tormenting our characters, misdirecting them, withholding any sort of lucky break, we butter them up so they can glide along.

This is when we’re no longer writing fiction, we’re playing Literary Barbies/Literary G.I. Joe.

If our characters exist for the sole purpose of acting out our own happy endings, we need a shrink not Scrivner. In the end it will be cheaper to hire a superlative psychiatrist than to produce and market a bad book.

Remember Storytellers Tell STORIES

*shock face*

If our job was to write amazing description, we’d be called ‘describers’ not ‘authors.’ We belong writing ad copy not novels.

Our main goal as storytellers is to tell a STORY, not have a tea party, shopping spree, dinner gala with our imaginary friends. Why? Because NO ONE BUT US (THE WRITER) CARES UNLESS SOMETHING GOES DREADFULLY WRONG.

Think of this in life. You go out to dinner at your favorite fancy restaurant. It has beautiful decor, soft jazz, top notch cuisine, and includes a room full of well-dressed, well-mannered people having a good time.

Okay.

Do you really care about the other people in this restaurant? Or are they a backdrop you’ll forget as soon as the valet pulls up with your car? Will you remember this dinner for the rest of your life in fine detail?

Likely not.

Now, same restaurant, but the couple a table over escalates from a tense conversation to shouting to screams. The female suddenly bolts out of her chair, toppling the vase of roses and throws her glass of red wine in her date’s face. He’s doing his best to get her to calm down.

And since we ALL know the best way to get an angry woman to calm down is to TELL her to calm down…

SHE GRABS A STEAK KNIFE!

But her plan for unpremeditated murder is interrupted when strange woman tackles her!

…and it is the man’s WIFE!

Suddenly hair extensions are flying as the women wrestle in an undignified tangle of designer clothing and table linens. Then, when they take a breather both women realize…HE LIED TO THEM BOTH.

The girlfriend didn’t know her beau was married and found out, which was why she was breaking up with him. Thus, the new allies (the two women) descend on the babbling cheater with…ESCARGOT FORKS!

Guarantee you, most memorable dinner EVER 😉

Embrace the Inner Psychopath Because it is FUN

We can’t care about hurting people, killing people, or even crushing their hopes and dreams. We have to embrace the inner psychopath or we don’t have a story, we have a sedative.

One of the reasons fiction IS the most widely used form of escape is because, unlike cocaine and hookers, it’s legal.

But fiction also puts us in a world where the rules don’t matter and the consequences don’t either. Fiction permits the audience to embrace THEIR inner psychopath, too.

Consequences are for reality not fiction. Which is how movies like Lethal Weapon can exist. In reality, Riggs and Murtaugh would be riding a desk, and condemned to therapy until Internal Affairs finished their investigation…fifteen minutes into the movie.

But NO!

In fiction, cops can level entire city blocks, drive the wrong way down a highway causing countless car accidents, blow up buildings, shoot at bad guys in the middle of public places and no one in the movie mentions the words law suit.

John McClane is not turned into a social pariah, and sued for damages by everyone impacted by his actions at the Nakatomi Plaza. The NYPD doesn’t abandon him and force him into early retirement because him leveling a skyscraper in Los Angeles is bad department PR.

Nope, because it is FICTiON so McClane is still around to die harder in Die Hard 2.

Why do we tolerate this bad behavior? And LOVE IT?

Because in life we have to follow the rules, the laws and moral codes. The reason we watch and rewatch the same movies, read and reread the same books is because they liberate us from the chains of morality. We LOVE these stories….

…because there’s a little bit of psychopath in all of us 😉 .

Before I ask for your thoughts, I want to make a little announcement…

Author Holiday Hotline

All the On-Demand bundles are ON SALE. We’ve saved all the best classes for a limited time for ON DEMAND. This means professional author training in your home, no pants required.

I STRONGLY recommend the gift that’s going to keep blessing you all year, all career long. We record all classes to make training accessible and convenient, but these recordings take up A LOT OF STORAGE space. Come the new year, we’re going to have to free up space on the servers and these classes will be gone for good. Some we might not offer again.

We have classes on speculative fiction, plotting, character, blogging, social media, etc. Scroll down and pick out the ones you want, then you’ll have the recording to watch on YOUR schedule.

Also, we have two more classes for December and some listed for January. If you sign up before December 24th, you can get $10 off.

GET $10 OFF ALL LIVE CLASSES. Use the promo code Jolly18.

What Are Your Thoughts?

What are your favorite Christmas movies? Do you see the theme of chaos and destruction even in classics like It’s A Wonderful Life? Which ones are your favorite and why? Do you struggle being ‘mean’ to your characters? I still do. So many times I have to go BACK and take that shiny away…then kick them.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!

Also, check out the FANTASTIC HOLIDAY DEALS we have!

A lot of our On Demand classes need to be wiped from the server to make room for more training, so if you want professional training AT HOME? While in jammies during December when calories don’t COUNT? Grab you SOME! Gift it to yourself, a friend, YOURSELF!

ALSO, I’m offering my Write Stuff Special for a LOW holiday price. 20 pages of deep edit/critique for $55 and there are only 7 slots left. If you need some outside feedback to get you on the right track? Get a SPOT, TODAY! (You can use when you are ready).

In the meantime, opinions!

What do you WIN? For the month of DECEMBER, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

LIVE CLASSES! REMEMBER TO USE Holiday18 for $10 off!

The WANANANO Bundle

Instructors: Cait Reynolds, Kristen Lamb
Price: $79.00 USD 
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: (see below)

  • The Sticky Middle Saturday, December 14, 2018, 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST
  • NANONOWWHAT? Thursday, December 13, 2018, 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST (Just enough time to recover…)

Get two live classes plus all recordings for 30% off! You can also purchase each class individually.


The Publishing Triple Threat Bundle

Instructors: Kristen Lamb, Cait Reynolds
Price: $155.00 USD (buy now and get that last tax deduction in before the end of the year!)
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: (see below)

Normally, it would be $210 USD for these three classes.

With the Triple Threat Bundle ALL THREE CLASSES (10 HOURS LIVE and RECORDINGS) for ONLY $155 USD. (Three classes for the price of TWO!)

You can also purchase each class individually.

***Registration is open until an hour before the final class. If, however, you want to attend ALL THREE CLASSES LIVE, MAKE SURE TO SIGN UP BEFORE THE FIRST CLASS ON JANUARY 10th.


ON DEMAND CLASSES!

ON DEMAND BUNDLE – Author Branding TKO

New Year New YOU! As they say, fail to plan and plan to fail. 2019 is almost here and the Author Branding T.K.O. delivers the training you need to make 2019 a success.

In this bundle, we’re going to take on then tame the three most terrifying topics. By the end? Easy peasy! You’ll wonder why this stuff ever had you so freaked out in the first place.

Normally all three classes would be $155…as well as spread across the entire year. But now, with the T.K.O. BUNDLE, all three classes in one place (your place) for only $99.

***Get your bundle TODAY. Only available for purchase through 12/24/18. Get your bundle before these classes go away with 2018. Gotta free up space on servers for 2019….


ON DEMAND BUNDLE – The Author’s Toolkit: Go PRO in 2019

Maybe have a New Year’s Resolution to write that novel? Have you started far too many promising stories, only to get stuck and never finish? Perhaps you just want to learn how to write FASTER without compromising quality? This bundle is the training you need to be a lean mean writing machine.

The Author’s Toolkit Bundle is six hours of intensive training that will help you write at a professional pace while minimizing revisions.

SIX HOURS of PROFESSIONAL TRAINING all at the same time, delivered to your computer. $165 when purchased separately, but in The Author’s Toolkit Bundle ONLY $99.

***Only available for purchase through 12/24/18. Get your bundle before these classes go away with 2018…


Blinding them with Science: The “X” Factor Classes

Tired of writing Soylent Green? Too many unfinished books trapped in the Twilight Zone? Ready to get weird…but way faster and at a professional level of weird? You came to the RIGHT PLACE! Cait and I are professional weirdos….(that sounded way more awesome in my head).

Anyway, the Blinding Them with Science Bundle is SIX HOURS of professional level training in speculative fiction at your fingertips.

***Just promise us that when you enslave the human race, we get cookies.

Three mind-bending classes for one low mind-blowing price. $165 in classes for only $99. ON DEMAND. Meaning enjoy at home in jammies.

***Only available for purchase through 12/24/18. Get your bundle before these classes go away with 2018…


ON DEMAND BUNDLE – Dangerous Dames: Creating Strong Female Characters

DOUBLE TROUBLE WITH KRISTEN & CAIT! Get the One-Two BAM! Two Power Classes with ONE T.K.O. PRICE!

Dangerous Dames BUNDLE. Regardless of time, place, or planet, these classes will train you to craft legendary bad@$$ females audiences can’t get enough of.

Normally $90 for both classes. With Double Trouble Bundle, enjoy BOTH classes for ONLY $75.

These classes are pre-recorded and won’t be offered again. This is the last chance to enjoy these classes before we free up space on the servers.


About the Instructors:

Cait Reynolds is a USA Today Bestselling Author and lives in Boston with her husband and neurotic dog. She discovered her passion for writing early and has bugged her family and friends with it ever since. She likes history, science, Jack Daniels, jewelry, pasta, and solitude. Not all at the same time. When she isn’t enjoying the rooftop deck that brings her closer to the stars, she writes.

 

Kristen Lamb is the author of the definitive guide to social media and branding for authors, Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World. She’s also the author of #1 best-selling books We Are Not Alone—The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer. She’s just released her highly acclaimed debut mystery-thriller The Devil’s Dance.

Kristen has written over twelve hundred blogs and her site was recognized by Writer’s Digest Magazine as one of the Top 101 Websites for Writers. Her branding methods are responsible for selling millions of books and used by authors of every level, from emerging writers to mega authors.

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Why are there certain stories we just can’t get enough of? Why do some stories fade away while others become staples for every generation? Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol has been made into all kinds of movies, plays, cartoons, musicals and there are countless variations of Dickens’ original story: A grumpy old miser who is transformed by the power of love.

Today we are going to explore the many brilliant layers of a very simple and timeless tale and maybe even extract some lessons to make our own writing even better.

One of my all-time favorite movies for the holidays is The Muppets Christmas Carol. I believe I’ve seen this movie a few hundred thousand times. I’ve worn out three VHS tapes and at least three DVDs. I play the movie over and over, mainly because, well, duh,  MUPPETS! I drive my husband nuts playing this movie over and over…and over.

I’m worse than a three-year-old.

Muppets aside, I also can’t get enough of the music. I love the story of A Christmas Carol no matter how many times I see it, no matter how many renditions, and I am certainly not alone. Charles Dickens’ story of a redeemed miser is a staple for holiday celebrations around the world and across the generations.

This story is virtually synonymous with “Christmas,” but why is it such a powerful story? Why has it spoken so deeply to so many? Why is it a story that never grows old? Today, I want to talk about a couple of the elements that speak to me, because they rest at the heart of great writing.

A Little Background

A Christmas Carol is a beautiful story, but I find it’s true beauty when it’s explained in the Christian context that inspired it. A couple years ago, Toddler Spawn was watching Bubble Guppies and they tried (dismally) to tell the same story inserting “holiday” so as not to offend anyone, I presume.

Yet, the story fell flat.

The PC had ruined the beauty of this tale and made it more of a lesson about embracing shallow commercialism once a year than a story of love’s power to redeem the irredeemable. Thus, this post will use scriptural and religious references to explain why I believe this story is so moving and timeless.

Charles Dickens was a Christian and his beliefs are wound all through the story, thus this post is only to explore in light of that reality. For instance, if we were parsing apart The Golden Compass we’d be approaching from a vastly different ontological angle. Namely, Pullman is an atheist and thus his fiction is also an extension of his values.

Back to A Christmas Carol…

Instead of Dickens preaching his beliefs, he created the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge and then through theme, symbols, motifs and allegory drove home very powerful lessons.

The Power of Names

Naming characters can be vital. Great writers use the power of parsimony. Each element should serve as many purposes as possible. A name is more than a name. It has the power to be a story within a story.

I recall the moment I was first introduced to what would become my favorite hymn, Come Thou Fount of Many Blessings. One verse stood out:

Here I raise my Ebenezer

Here by Thy great help I’ve come

And I hope, by Thy good pleasure

Safely to arrive at home.

Ebenezer? Raise an Ebenezer? I needed to know more. Ebenezer is actually ??? ????, Even Ha’Ezer, which literally means stone of help or monument to God’s glory and is referenced in the book of Samuel.

Thus, when Dickens chose a name for his protagonist, he chose the perfect name for the redeemed sinner. What is a better testament to a God of grace, than the hardened heart melted by the power of love? The current climate of political correctness aside, A Christmas Carol is most definitively a Christian story and the theme is reminiscent of Proverbs 25:22:

If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat

and if he is thirsty give him water to drink

for you will heap burning coals on his head

and the Lord will reward you.

Very often this verse is misunderstood. “Yeah! BURN ‘EM! THAT’LL TEACH THEM TO MESS WITH ME! COALS! BURN BABY BUUUURN!” Yet, if one looks to the ancient Hebrew, the heaping burning coals is literally the holy fire of LOVE that melts the hardened heart so it can be remade (think of melting a weapon of war to remake it into something of beauty or a tool for healing or farming).

The path to redemption is love, for only love holds the power to redeem those who have committed grave wrongdoings. Only love can repair what’s been broken and “remake” it into something entirely new.

The Christian story is a story of love, of redemption, of second chances and not because one has earned it or deserved it.

Scrooge is a dreadful man, yet as the story unfolds, not only does Scrooge’s heart begin to melt as he’s faced with the truth of who he is, but our hearts melt toward Scrooge as we travel through the past, present and future and see what has created such a embittered, cruel person. We empathize and start to have compassion and love the unlovely.

Scrooge has done nothing to earn redemption, but his redemption is precisely why we cheer at the end.

The spectral visits serve to show Scrooge the truth, which again is reminiscent of scripture; and then you will know the truth and it is the truth that will set you free (John 8:32). Scrooge cannot change what he cannot see and it is the three ghosts who come to reveal what he’s failed to see on his own.

Repentance is not the mumbled and counterfeit “Sorry.” Rather, it is finally seeing the truth of who we are and what wrong we’ve done. It’s a decision to make things right and turn away from wrong.

By the end of the story, Ebenezer is authentically repentant. He’s a changed person determined to share the love and grace that was freely given to him when he didn’t deserve it.

Again, what a wonderful testament to God’s love. What a lovely “Ebenezer.”

Jacob Marley is another symbolic name. Jacob Marley is the name of Scrooge’s old business partner, and it is he who intervenes to try and redeem his old friend before Ebenezer is sentenced to share Marley’s fate. The name “Jacob” actually means “thief and liar.”

In the Bible, Jacob stole his brother Esau’s blessing, then manipulated, lied, stole and connived until it came back to bite him multiple times  (Jacob later wrestled with an angel until he could be given a new name, Israel and he’d become the father of a great people). What better name to give someone sentenced to roam as a specter for eternity carrying the weight of his ill deeds than a name that literally means thief and liar?

 

The Power of Symbol

When the ghost of Jacob Marley visits Scrooge:

The chain he drew about his waist was clasped about his middle. It was long and wound about him like a tail; and it was made (for Scrooge observed it closely) of cash-boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds, and heavy purses wrought in steel…

Why cash-boxes? Why deeds? Why purses?

In life Jacob was a money-lender. He was ruthless in his dealings and never forgave a debt. Yet, Matthew 6:12 (part of The Lord’s Prayer) reads: Forgive us our debts as we have also forgiven our debtors.

Jacob forged his chains in life. He refused to show mercy, compassion, or kindness. He was ruthless and legalistic, thus he has sealed his fate. God has promised to forgive us the same way we forgive others, which is why the scripture pleads for grace, compassion and mercy. Also, forgiveness of debts is the heart of what Christmas is about, for unto us a child is born.

Christians believe God sent His only begotten son (God in the form of Man) to pay a debt we cannot hope to pay. God loves us as His children, and our actions have left us hopelessly out off our depth, incapable of paying our debts.

Yet, Love cancels the debt.

Christ’s last words on the cross, “It is finished” literally translate “Paid in FULL.” Jacob turned away from the grace freely offered, so now he wanders, burden by the debts he cannot pay.

Jacob now finds opportunity to warn Scrooge of the chains he is now forging with his actions (and inaction), chains that are longer and heavier than even his. The only way for Scrooge to free himself is to learn to value himself and his fellow human beings.

Smaller Truths Reveal Larger Truths

Dickens makes it a point to show us that Scrooge is a miser. Scrooge shows no mercy, has no warmth, shares none of his wealth…with anyone, including himself. Scrooge is a very wealthy man, yet he wears old clothes, lights no coals for warmth because coal costs money. His home is threadbare and his food measly and meager.

The full story of redemption is that Scrooge not only sees his fellow man differently—worthy of compassion, love and generosity—but in changing how he views his fellow man, his view of himself changes (and heals) as well. The three spirits not only heal Scrooge’s relationship with his Maker, but with himself and others. Scrooge, for the first time, becomes part of the human experience, no longer content to be “solitary as an oyster.”

The POWER of WORDS

This point should resonate particularly with writers. There is a REASON the Ghost of Christmas Future refuses to speak. Words have creative power. If one looks at the first chapters of Genesis, God created the heavens and the earth and all living things by speaking. “And God said…”

It was only humans He breathed life into. Everything else was created by speaking. Throughout the Old and New Testament, there are countless scriptures referencing the power of the tongue, of words, and warning they carry both the power of life and death.

This idea carries into Ebenezer’s story because, by the time he has this final visit, he still has choice over what his future will be. The specter cannot speak because words would cast his future and it isn’t for the Spirit of Christmas Future to decide.

Happy Ending

Scrooge deserves the death he’s shown by the Spirit of Christmas Future. He deserves to die alone with those “closest” casting lots for his garments. This is what he has sown with his lifetime of greed, hate and spite.

Yet, he is pardoned.

Scrooge is the resurrected heart, the dead brought to life. When God promises “everlasting life” it isn’t a promise that we get to float around on a cloud in Heaven after we die. Rather, it’s a promise that life begins at the moment we decide to accept mercy and love.

Scrooge has been “alive” but not “living.” He was existing. When he is redeemed, given a new chance, he changes. Out of gratitude for the mercy he is given, he reaches out to give what he’s been given. LOVE, MERCY, GENEROSITY.

Restoration

Sure, God could have rained down a miracle that healed Tiny Tim and landed Bob Cratchit a better job with a better boss, but Dickens saw God as a God in the business of finding and changing the lost, miserable and broken. Instead of giving the miracle to Cratchit and his family, God, instead, gives it to Scrooge, the least deserving of a miracle.

Why?

Because God is about working through people. Many of His miracles come from ordinary people performing extraordinary acts of kindness and sacrifice. By changing Scrooge, God could create a man who would become a benefactor. Cratchit has now a kind and generous boss, the community now had a passionate philanthropist, and Tiny Tim lives and the family thrived because one man’s heart could be melted.

 

It is no great feat to love the lovely. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much (Matthew 5:46). This story is so powerful namely because it shows that every human has value and is worth and an opportunity for redemption. God is in the business of changing hearts, and Dickens wanted to show that. A Christmas Carol is a masterful exploration of the true nature of Christianity, what it should be, what it was meant to be. Love. Above all.

What is your favorite version of A Christmas Carol? What do you love about this story? What is your favorite part? I love The Muppet’s Christmas Carol (already told y’all that), but THIS is my FAVORITE part!

Also, here is my favorite hymn, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing. I cry every time I hear this:

Remember to check out the new classes listed at W.A.N.A International. Your friends and family can get you something you need for Christmas. Social Media for Writers, Blogging for Writers, and Branding for Authors. 

Also, I have one craft class listed. Your Story in a Sentence—Crafting Your Log-Line. Our stories should be simple enough to tell someone what the book is about in ONE sentence. If we can’t do this, often there is a plot problem. This class is great for teaching you how to be master plotters and the first TEN SIGNUPS get their log-line shredded for free, so you will be agent ready for the coming year.

Enough of that…

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of DECEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

NOVEMBER’S Winner of the 20 page critique is Toni Kennedy. Please send your 5,000 word WORD document to kristen at wana intl dot com. Congratulations and thanks for supporting my guest blogger!

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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