Christmas in the Early 1900’s

by William Battis
Volunteer Staff at Creative Writing Institute
where every student receives a private tutor!

Christmas as a boy, in the 1930s, wasn’t just one day… it was a season! It started at Thanksgiving when the merchants decorated their store windows with the most magnificent displays. Mannequins moved and little Santa figures waved as we stood spellbound while the cold wind blew around us, and snow whirled about our overshoes. Our hands were chilled in our mittens and our ears tingled as we said, “Please, Mother, can’t we watch the train come out of the tunnel one more time?”

We had to earn the money to buy gifts for our family and parents. My family had eight children – one older sister – and all the rest were boys! Grandmother lived with us, so we had to plan a gift for her, too. My favorite money task was shoveling snow from the neighbor’s sidewalks and driveways for fifty cents or a dollar.

Preparing for Christmas meant helping Mother make cookies and fruitcake. I was in the middle of the pecking order, so I became the chief baker while Mother made and cut out the cookie dough. We had fun delivering homemade fruitcake and cookies to the nuns and priests who didn’t have local families.

For outside decorating, we attached seven-watt bulb strands of lights around the edge and up to the second story. Just imagine how excite we were when we lit them for the first time! I helped my big brothers with that until I was old enough to do it alone.

One year we made a large candle out of a cardboard tube, painted it red and installed a bulb on top as a candle flame. We were so proud of that candle decoration!

My older brother and I made a crèche (nativity scene) out of a walnut stained wooden orange crate with a slanted roof, star shining on top, and light inside, ready for the tiny figurines and the baby Jesus. It has survived to this day.

Frozen Christmas trees were displayed on tree lots, and we shopped for it as a family. The trees were stiff, crooked and flattened from travel, and we had to imagine how it would look in the house with lights and ornaments on it. Dad was a whiz at straightening crooked Christmas trees. He cut off a branch, drilled a new hole and reinserted it so the tree looked balanced.

We strung sets of lights on it, and hung tinsel to mimic icicles. It took hours to get the perfect effect. Finally, it was time to put the shining star on top.

Dad had a green Oakland car that was large enough for our big family. It had red wire wheels and a spare tire mounted on both front fender wells. Very classy looking.
The only time we saw horses and carts was when the rag man or the milkman came by. The rag man bought used clothing, scrap metal and broken things, then resold them for salvage or repair. Metals were usually melted down and sold yet again.

Grandfather was a locomotive mechanic and always had to work Christmas Eve day, so off we went to get the grandparents when he got off work. When we arrived home, Mother would announce, “Oh, children, you just missed Santa Claus!” There in the living room around our Christmas tree nestled several small gifts for each child. The youngest would open his presents first, then the next oldest, and so on. My stack would usually have a toy truck or car, plus socks, mittens, or underwear. As I became older, perhaps a tie, fancy handkerchiefs, a watch or other practical gift.

When Dad took my grandparents home, Mom put the little ones in bed, unless we walked to Midnight Mass. I loved walking late at night and listening to the crunching of snow as I looked at the bright stars.

Sometimes I’d sing in the choir on Christmas day or be an altar boy. At church, I gawked at the flickering flames, smelled melted candle wax, inhaled the fresh scent of evergreens, and stared at giant poinsettias. My spirit felt so elevated and peaceful as we worshiped Christ’s Birth with Silent Night, Holy Night.

On behalf of Creative Writing Institute and my family, MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Basic Story Structure

Story Structure 101

by Deborah Owen

All creative writers are bound to an invisible law of journalism. From the beginning of time, the same structure has been used. All of the great writers use it. But after this lesson, you will see that story structure is far more than the initial breakdown:

  • Exposition – the beginning, what the story is about
  • Conflict –  man vs. man, man vs. nature, or man vs. internal conflict
  • Climax
  • Resolution

If you google “story structure,” you will find many variations. You might find plot, conflict, conclusion – or theme, climax, and conclusion. No matter how you word it, the basic answer is the same. Without any one of these elements, the story will flounder.

But you must expound on the following things, no matter what kind of story you are writing:

  • Point of View (POV)
  • Plot
  • Theme
  • Setting
  • Characterization
  • Dialogue
  • Action
  • Writing style
  • Genre

If you want to transfer your reader from their sofa or chair to the scene in your mind, you must use settings. This can be anything from an open window with a curtain blowing in the breeze to a murder scene in progress. The best idea is to open midway through an action scene. This will grab your audience quicker and keep them longer, as they read to find the outcome.

There is a difference between plot and theme. Plot is the event (or series of events) that occurs in the story. Plot is the central heart of what the story is about. Theme, on the other hand, is the underlying motivation that drives the story.

The open window with the curtains blowing in the breeze is part of a setting, which in turn is part of the larger picture, the plot. Every time there is an event in the story, you must ask yourself these questions: “Why is the window open? How did the window get opened? Obviously, someone opened it. But why?” These questions move you into the theme of the story. Always ask yourself, who, what, when, where, why and how. The answer to these questions is the theme that drives the story, the underlying motivation of the story – if you will, the reason why the story is there.

Point of view is how the reader sees the story. If you tell it in first person point of view (I went to the store…), the reader will see the story through your eyes. If you tell it in third person point of view, (he went to the store…), the reader will see the story through the character’s eyes. New writers usually like to write in first person, but the majority of editors are now mostly buying third person. This new trend makes a huge difference in choosing your POV.

A few brief words on some of the above: Characterization – make your characters real to the reader by concentrating on descriptions, attitudes, failures, and quirks. Dialogue – it’s okay to use accents, but preferably not on the main character. And for settings – use anything that describes where a person is, or will be in conjunction to plot or theme.

Have anything you need a little more clarification on? Don’t be shy–let us know in the comments below! Also, don’t forget to stop by and sign up for some of outr awesome creative writing courses!

Valentine Story – Andrew’s Valentine Day Miracle

Andrew – One of the ‘St. Valentines’

by S.A. Gibbins, Volunteer Staff 

Andrew slumped into the same lounge chair that he had occupied for the past eight weeks. The IV dripped a miracle concoction that would supposedly kill his cancer while somewhere in the background, a CD reeled off one more verse of “All you need is Love.” It echoed through the depressed recesses of his mind. 

The seat opposite him was empty again today. The old woman that usually sat there always nudged him for cheerful conversation. He barely noticed when she thanked the workers profusely and ambled down the hall with her walker.

The old bag’s probably dead. She must’ve known she was gonna die.”

Her voice intruded on his mind. “You should smile, Andrew. It’d do you a world of good.” 

Smile? Why should he? Since his wife left and the kids quit visiting, there was nothing to smile about. All You Need is Love hummed a happy tune in empty ears and he yearned to hear something else.   

He peered around, feeling like a permanent fixture in the sterile room, and then heard a familiar squeaky voice behind him.

“Will you be my Valentine, Sir?”  

There stood the old woman, holding a handmade Valentine Card in her age-spotted hands. As she pressed the card into his palm, it jolted a 50-year old memory. Andrew was in the first grade again, absent from school because of an eye operation. The teacher came to visit and delivered dozens of homemade Valentine cards from his schoolmates. They looked a lot like this one. A slow smile erupted as he shook her hand. 

“You’re not dead!”

“Of course I ain’t. You ain’t either,” she said as she took her seat. “I missed you, too.”

Some say it was the card that healed Andrew that day. Some say it was the love that broke down his barrier. Whatever it was – it worked!

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