How to generate fresh ideas for holiday stories

Every journalist I know has faced the dreaded annual assignment: holidays, anniversaries, recurring events. These come down to writers not as sharp story ideas, but as topics:  Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, the annual spelling bee, Daylight’s Saving Time and so on.

There are usually three ways to carry out this task:

1. Write it straight and keep it short.

2. Strive for the first level of creativity — a kind of quick ingenuity that descends over time to cliche (spend Valentine’s Day at the divorce court).

3. I prefer the third: Shoot for something fresh, surprising and original. (Spend Mother’s Day with Mother Superior at a convent. Spend Valentine’s Day with a heart surgeon.)

If you want to achieve escape velocity from the gravitational pull of narrative tedium, replay the chat below. I offered practical tips and ideas, and answered related questions.

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  • Susan Griffing Christensen

    As a feature writer for 17 years, I always hated overdone holiday stories. So I made a vow to never take the same Christmas angle twice. It forced me to be creative, and I had great fun seeing how far afield I could get. Among my favorites was “Astray in the Manger,” a story about all the crazy things that can happen with live nativities–including a ewe-turn into traffic that killed one church’s borrowed sheep. (Can you tell I dearly love a bad pun?)