The importance of holiday traditions


A seasonal Monday musing

by Raine Thomas

My love of the holidays started in my childhood. As busy as my mom was while working full time and running our household of six, she always managed to find the time to dig out the holiday decorations from their storage boxes in the garage and get them up so we could all enjoy them. For many years, we had the same disheveled artificial Christmas tree that she decorated with so many strands of lights you got a little shock if you pulled the plug the wrong way. That sad tree is a memory invoking notes of A Charlie Brown Christmas, another tradition in our household.

I also remember spending days in the kitchen with my mom. She had a variety of cookie recipes she made every year. Magic cookie bars, thumbprint cookies, butter balls, lemon squares, and iced sugar cookies were at the top of her list. She’d make enough cookies to put into pretty tins to give our teachers, our neighbors, the mailperson, the garbage collectors, and anyone else she wanted to recognize. Everyone loved them! It helped me and my brothers learn that gifts don’t always have to cost a lot of money to be appreciated. In fact, those gifts requiring time and thoughtfulness are usually among the most beloved!

When I got older, some of my best holiday memories involved going with my mom from store to store looking for bargains on gifts and new decorations to add to our individual households. We would stop for breakfast at the local diner (boy, do I miss their biscuits and gravy!), then venture around the malls and shops of south Atlanta. Once all the shopping was done, we set a day to get together, indulge in some alcoholic holiday cheer, and spend hours wrapping presents together while watching one Christmas movie or another.

Photo by on Unsplash

My mom passed away earlier this year. I can’t help but think about all of those traditions now as we venture into our first Christmas without her. My 13-year-old daughter was very close with her grandma, so I know memories of our many Christmases with mom are also at the forefront of her mind.

I’ve come to realize just how important those many holiday traditions were. They weren’t just “traditions.” They were memories in the making. They were moments that we can revisit now and feel joy when otherwise we might be mournful.

Rather than focus on our loss, we’ve decided to focus on happy traditions…those traditions I had with my mom and those we’re creating ourselves. We’ll be making fresh gingerbread cookies and decorating them together. We’re hunting for Christmas movies my daughter hasn’t seen and spending time watching them. We’re playing the Christmas carols we all love every chance we get, and we’ll read the poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas” by Clement Clarke Moore on Christmas Eve.

This time of year invokes a lot of nostalgia, especially in light of my mother’s passing. I’ve been taking time to write about my thoughts and feelings in hopes I can infuse them into a future story, as all life experiences should guide us authors. For now, though, I’ve got cookies to bake…and more importantly, memories to make.

Raine Thomas

Raine Thomas, new adult, young adult and romance

is the award-winning author of bestselling Young Adult and New Adult fiction. Known for character-driven stories that inspire the imagination, Raine has signed with multiple award-winning producer Chase Chenowith of Back Fence Productions to bring her popular Daughters of Saraqael trilogy to the big screen.

Raine is a proud indie author who is living the dream. When she isn’t writing or glued to e-mail or social networking sites, Raine can usually be found vacationing with her husband and daughter on one of Florida’s beautiful beaches or crossing the border to visit with her Canadian friends and relatives.

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Show. Don’t Tell by Rebecca Tsaros-Dickson


Rebecca Tsaros-Dickson, bestselling author of Say My Name

Rebecca Tsaros-Dickson



The key to truly great writing is in flushing out details. Writers are told pretty regularly to support and elaborate. Our mantra: “Show. Don’t tell.”

But what does that mean?

How do we writers help readers see the action? Feel the characters’ emotions? How do we stop skim-the-surface storytelling and put our readers right down in it? For starters, we have to slow the freak down. Waaaaaaay down. We need to imagine a full, complete picture of every scene in our minds’ eye.

But it goes further than that.

Writers need to learn the kinds of details that effectively “show.” The stuff that helps readers see the wisp of blond hair curling toward her chin when her gaze falls to the ground. Feel the chill of a morbidly gray morning in November while hunting pheasant. Or suffer the metallic taste of irony when she first learns her lover is cheating with her sister.

It’s our job to give readers a reason to care about our characters and what happens to them. Here’s a handful of the kinds of details that help a writer “show.”

  • Character details (moving, thinking, feeling, talking); moment by moment description of action; get inside your characters’ heads; inner thoughts, opposing perspectives.
  • Setting details (smell, touch, taste, hear, see); create a living, breathing picture.
  • Important object details (color, size, texture, temperature); compare objects to something everyone is familiar with.
  • Non-narrative details (quotes, statistics, facts, anecdotes, definitions)

Graphic showing how good fiction appeals to the heart of readers and their feelings as opposed to appealing to their rational thinking side, their brainBooks have an advantage over movies or television because they let readers inside characters’ heads. Beginning writers often forget this. But it’s critical to reveal characters’ inner thoughts and feelings; to show different perspectives by getting inside the minds of people from different times, places and backgrounds. Good writers will also reveal characters’ personalities, thoughts and feelings through dialogue.

When you’re adding these kinds of details, try not to get caught up in editing or critiquing. This part of the writing process – the flushing out of stories – is about using YOUR power and magic. But it can be a frustrating time, too, pausing frequently to compare the scene in your head with what is on the page. It’s hard work to adequately convey in writing what your mind has constructed so clearly for you.

How hard you push yourself during this step is the difference between mediocre writing and excellence. Put another way, slowing down and adding details is the difference between editorializing and writing rich.

A crude example: Walk into a class of third-graders and write on the board, “I have a dog.” Then tell the students to draw a picture of a dog. Each picture would be completely different. And likely vastly different from the dog you imagine in your head. The solution lies in the details.

Example number two: “Yesterday, my husband brought me home some cookies. They tasted good.” Forget that these sentences are boring and poorly constructed. Just think about what you would ask in order to learn more. Why did he bring me cookies? What kind were they? Did they have frosting? Did he make them? Did I share?

Once writers know how to ask the right questions – and that it is, in fact, okay to ask those questions – they become more adept at deleting the irrelevant to make way for what is more specific and concrete.

• • •

Details help to create a picture in the mind of a reader. But how you go about adding them can make a huge difference – the difference between smelling the chlorine by the pool and feeling your head submerge in the icy water.

Don’t: When I started out, I had a bad habit of cramming every detail of a character in the first paragraph. “The short, fat, pasty-faced woman with a wide-brim

graphic illustrating the need to show details instead of telling about them

* * *

straw hat, dressed in her best white Sunday skirt, had dirty, black fingernails and a grin that revealed yellow teeth.” It overwhelms the reader.

Do: Use descriptions of others to reveal something about the main character. “His thick black hair reminded me of my own, when I was pregnant with my oldest. Back before the cancer treatment left me with a threadbare scalp.”

Do: Bring description at unexpected moments. “The sky was metallic and grainy that night, as though sheaths of rain could come down any second. As she reached for the shutters, I could see where years of self-cutting scarred her forearms like some sort of bold tattoo.”

Do: Show details during conversation. “I left him,” she said, crossing her thin arms defiantly, wrinkling the fine lace and white satin of her wedding gown. “Don’t try to talk me into going back.”

Do: Add a bit of character detail when describing something important. “She had a nasty habit of biting her full, pink lips when she was uncertain, which happened frequently when he was around. He noticed – and he liked it.”

Do: Add detail while another character’s action is being described. “She watched him moving to the dance floor with envy. He was so graceful on his feet, while she tripped merely walking across the ballroom in her stilettos.”

How do you add detail to your work?


Rebecca Tsaros Dickson is a published author, editor and writing coach. She works one-on-one with writers who want to learn how to dig deep in her 4-week intensive course, Write Raw – hailed as the course that will change your life as a writer. In addition, she hosts a weekly writing prompt, called Just Write, designed to remove obstacles and set your writing mind free. She also holds Tune-Up Tuesday, a weekly public revision session with writers from all walks of life. You can find all that and more at

Stop by tomorrow for “Moon,” a powerful story by author Caleb Pirtle III, author of the recently released Golgotha Connection. Subscribe to the BestsellingReads newsletter to receive fresh voices each morning in your mailbox automatically.