Sorry about that, but tradition needs to be observed. It is Christmas Eve, after all. I have been out all day trying to roll sheep (being the nearest thing we have around these parts at this time of year to white fluffy stuff from which to make snow-men). The sheep did not seem impressed with the idea, although they did eat the carrot-for-a-nose. There is, however something to be said for dashing through the sheep, on a one a one horse open slay… The joys of Southern hemisphere, and traditions like hot Christmas dinner – when it 40 C (104 F I hope). Still: It’s still the season to be jolly, however. Or eat drink and be Mary, according your preferences.
As a writer, you have to think about why these traditions form and endure (despite the fact that I nearly died of heat-fatigue and dehydration in a Santa suit, in what is our summer). What makes people tick, what makes them respond, what they choose to come back to, is life and breath to a writer’s career.
Traditions are of course complex things with, at times, bizarre origins. They may have no more real reason to be, but go on year after year. Some of them (like Hakarl) you have to wonder if are only kept alive as a sort of hazing horror for the next generation. But generally, traditions give a reasonable number of people pleasure, or, unless enforced by someone in power who they give pleasure to… they’d fade away.
Part of this is that it sort of mental shorthand. The symbols and traditions have strong associations, moods, memories, and wider stories. You all know what goes along with ‘Bah! Humbug!’ I carry Ebenezer Scrooge, the ghosts of Christmas past, present and yet to come, Tiny Tim etc. When a culture loses this shorthand… telling stories gets much slower and harder.
Part of it is that we are creatures of pattern and habit. We like and find comfort in the familiar – especially when things are pretty miserable, but even when they’re not. We’re building on those patterns (adding and losing bits, perhaps). As much as people CLAIM to like ‘new’ stories and ideas, there’s no getting away from the fact that something that works on those traditions — perhaps with a new twist or two, but even without it often outsells books that strike out on their own (Louis L’Amour mostly worked within a traditional framework. I’d like to have his sales. The Harry Potter books are twist on the staple tradition of British kids’ boarding-school books. Despite this they seem to have sold one or two copies).
So here is my short Christmas Eve point: ignoring traditions may get you a lump of coal in your stocking and rotten sales to boot. Using them to add to your work, to build on – whether we’re talking the traditional (and very popular) tropes – be it a fantasy collect-the-tokens, or Bug-Eyed Monsters invading Earth remains more popular than following new attempts at ‘traditions’ (like yet another Handmaiden’s Tail clone) that are not popular. Using the language and style of the genre at least won’t lose you the established readers
And you could make your Christmas brighter and ours happier by supporting the books of the Mad Geniuses. For some of you that’s a tradition too. I love it and long may it continue.
Merry Christmas to you all! (For any of you who object to this, please follow my lead: volunteer to work this Christmas. Our kids are not with us this year, someone has to do Ambulance duty, and it might as well be me, so others who celebrate the Christmas tradition can enjoy it with their families.)