Holiday Letters Make Terrible Fiction

My grandson Milo has the best Christmas spirit!

Our friends and family are far flung, so every year, I make a special effort to do a holiday newsletter and send pictures of our grandkids. This year, we’ve had wonderful things in our family to celebrate—a new grandbaby on the way, one of our sons being named head basketball coach at the high school where he teaches, and for me, the publication of It Should Have Been You on January 30.

But as I looked over my latest letter from a fiction writer’s perspective, I had to admit it was a total bore. Edited out are all the things that haven’t gone so great in our lives—the losses, disappointments, struggles, and inevitable conflicts and challenges. I left them out partly to protect my family’s privacy, and partly because they are painful and don’t qualify as much of a holiday spirit pick-me-up for folks we send cards to. Does anyone really want to read about how heartbroken I am about my mom’s progressing dementia?

All the stuff I’ve left out of our newsletter, however, is the meat of fiction. How lovely to immerse ourselves in a story where characters we care about are experiencing their own set of struggles and conflicts. It’s not only a glorious escape from our own stuff, but a way to process things we may be going through, however different the circumstances.

Writing fiction is an immersive experience as well. My husband often complains that when I’m writing, it’s tough to get my attention! I’m drawn into another world, where I’m free to draw upon all I’ve personally experienced or witnessed. Sometimes I imagine all these people and feelings going into a blender and emerging as these fictional characters. They suffer terribly, but at the end, there is some kind of hope, some sort of resolution—at least in my own work and the work of many other writers.

I read somewhere once that, “Fiction is the writer’s revenge on reality,” and I think it’s true. In fiction, we can make sure the mystery gets solved, or the lovers reunite. But in our own lives, some things are never clearly or cleanly resolved.

On the other hand, I celebrate all the wondrous things that happen in “real life.” And even though holiday letters are a bore compared to the drama of fiction, I love reading and writing them. I want to know about new babies and family reunions and amazing trips friends have taken. And I want to share our good news with others. After all, how could I pass up an opportunity to brag about my grandkids?

Wishing you all a beautiful New Year!




  1. Marty Stiffler on January 2, 2018 at 5:29 pm

    What a thoughtful New Year’s message this is, Lynn. Thanks for sharing it.

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