Have you finished your Christmas shopping yet? I finished mine last Christmas when all the stuff was on sale—that way I can give my friends inexpensive expensive presents. The only problem is that it was so long ago that I can’t remember where I stashed the presents…
I don’t know what to do—Christmas is only thirteen days away! I know they say it’s better to give than to receive, and I now know it’s better to give than to forget. I wish I knew where I should start looking.
Wait! I know! Between the pages of my book!
That’s where I’ll find the presents—and believe it or not—that’s where you’ll find the perfect gift too. Your book is one of the greatest gifts in the world. More than that, it holds a whole sack full of gifts, enough to make Santa jealous. If you continue reading, I’ll unpack six of those presents for you to repackage and give to your readers.
The Gift of Joy
People who laugh live longer, they say. Every joke, witty remark, and funny description can enrich the lives of those who read them. How often have you watched a funny cat video and it has turned your rotten day into a pleasant one? Even if it didn’t, didn’t it at least make those few minutes of your day good? Humorous stories or scenes are like gag gifts people read instead of unwrap.
Think about it: Your funny scene has the power to flip a frown upside down. Never be ashamed of the humor you write if it makes someone laugh. Sure, maybe it’s not something worth publishing—maybe it’s something corny like a book-eating dinosaur or a Spanish-speaking squirrel—but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a wonderful gift. I once wrote a crazy story featuring several of my writerly colleagues. No one but a deranged agent would accept it, but the story made my friends happy and that was all that mattered. And if a stupid story like that can make people happy, think what a great story can do!
Gift-giving tip: Try writing a story with the recipient as the protagonist, picking a genre that goes with their personality. Have their friends, family members, and favorite movie characters as the cast. Think of all their quirks, likes, and hates, and insert as many as you can into the plot somehow. For example, you have a friend who loves squirrels, guinea pigs, and tacos. Cast them as a Spanish-speaking pigguirrel.
The Gift of Hope
We all have times when we want to give up and go fossilize somewhere. Our dreams seem like they’ve gone extinct and are too far buried underneath fear to be excavated. We need a shove to get us back to digging again. Many times the push comes from a cantankerous family member or friend who won’t stop beating us on the head until we get back up—but sometimes that push comes from a book.
Your words—whether you write fiction or nonfiction—can give readers the tools they need to pursue their dreams and revive their spirit. Every sentence is an opportunity to offer contentment, love, and sympathy (and without whacking them on the head like the family member). In the midst of such a broken, cluelesss, and saddened society, we wonder what good we can ever do for them. But you are doing something—you are writing—and that story can console people better than anything you’ll ever say.
Gift-giving tip: Try to give your story a glimmer of hope, not for your characters’ sake, but for readers. If your characters all croak and die in the end, okay! But make sure their deaths make readers want to keep living. On the other hand, our stories do not have to end like a Hallmark Christmas movie. Sad stories can offer hope just as much (sometimes more) than the happiest stories.
After all, the best presents are the ones that make a person cry.
The Gift of Adventure
Wouldn’t you like to take your family on an all-expenses paid trip to Paris? What if your friends could come too? And even your friend’s friends, relatives, coworkers, nice neighbors, and not-nice neighbors? What if the whole world could come?
Your book can take people places with only a few bucks. They can travel to Rome, the moon, or different worlds! You can take them on a peaceful boat ride via a romance novel or send them plummeting down a roller coaster in an adventure novel (plus, no wait times!). In some ways, it’s better than a real vacation because they can go whenever they want and ride it again and again. More than that, you’re giving people a chance to escape from their troubles and the mundane tasks of everyday life.
Gift-giving tip: Remember, just because you gave them the vacation, doesn’t mean you ought be their tour guide. Let them roam around this world and discover its hidden gems on their own (even if you were the one who stashed them there in the first place); don’t drag them along with lengthy descriptions. Let them take in the beauty bit by bit as they read along.
The Gift of Wisdom
Everyone has an aversion to school—okay, everyone except nerds, schoolteachers, and homeschoolers. Sometimes the only way to get us to learn things (besides firsthand experience) is reading a story. Occasionally, it’s a historical event, a scientific fact, or most likely, basic life principles. A story can teach right and wrong without waving a ruler in our faces.
Every lesson your character learns, every struggle he faces, every way he changes is a chance to steer a person from the wrong way to the right one. Your story may not seem like much—especially when those who are reading it are perfect little angels who merely need their halos straightened—but someday your story will reach a person and impact them for life.
Gift-giving tip: Don’t wrap the moral so that everyone knows what it is the minute they look at your present. Wrap it so that no one knows what it is until they’ve ripped off every scrap of paper. Don’t tell them what is, show them through poetic justice, theme, and most importantly, the characters’ internal struggles.
The Gift of Friendship
One can never be lonely when they’re reading a good book. Regardless of whether you become mildly or wildly famous, you’ll never be able to befriend all your readers, and many you’ll be liable never to have any interaction.
Sad as it may be, most readers don’t particularly want your friendship. But that’s your fault because you’ve given them the amazing friendship of a whole cast of characters (okay, some enmity too, but no one’s perfect). You’ve given them someone to sympathize with, admire, laugh with, call stupid, learn from, hit over the head, root for, and love. Best of all, you’ve given them someone who will never leave. Sure, that character may die in the end, but readers can always resurrect him by rereading the book (or sending you sobbing complaints).
Gift-giving tip: Killing a character can make readers want to throw your present back in your face, but not as much as replacing that beloved character with a less-beloved one. Or worse, ruining the character by making him into a totally different person. Keep your characters consistent—this doesn’t mean their beliefs/lifestyles won’t change over the course of the story, but that their personalities will stay the same.
The Gift of Inspiration
How many times have you read a story that gave you an idea for one of your own? Quite often the greatest stories are a piece of another story someone else wrote. Maybe it was just a scene, a setting, or something as simple as a phrase. Whole worlds can be created from one word you penned. Your story can inspire people of all trades—artists, architects, doctors—giving them an idea that changes their lives.
And by giving them inspiration, you’ve given them the opportunity to spread the inspiration even further with their own ideas. It’s like a gift that keeps on giving. And no gift you could buy could ever beat that.
Gift-giving tip: The best way to spread inspiration is to simply keep pounding at that keyboard and writing what inspires you. Don’t worry about whether another person will find inspiration in it, because if it ignites your soul, I can guarantee the sparks will fly for your readers too.
A Few Things to Remember about Gift-giving
You may not know how many your gift will reach. Unlike most gifts, this is one you must leave for whoever comes across it, and many readers will not feel comfortable voicing their thanks to a stranger—but that doesn’t mean your gift isn’t appreciated. And then, some people are just deaf and dumb and haven’t figured out there’s such a thing as leaving a nice Amazon review. Either way, remember that you probably have more readers than you think you do—dozens of readers may open your book or read your blog that you may ever know.
Your gift may take a while before it’s discovered. Sometimes wrapping up your book as a present can be discouraging—especially when you’re handing it out for free and no one seems to want to take the time to unwrap it and behold the treasures inside. But you must remember the internet is a bustling place and that many other authors are offering gifts (although some are really just coal wrapped in a neat cover design) to the public. We have to be content setting it in the hands of the few and waiting a Christmas or two (or ten) until it’s passed along to others.
You story is a gift and, as such, should not be written hastily or halfheartedly. Would you want to give a good friend a cheap present they won’t particularly like? Or maybe you did buy them something nice, but you wrap it sloppily? Your readers are worth the best, so make your book the best it can be, even if it means spending more time.
No gift pleases everyone. Your book isn’t a one-size-fits-all. Some will love it. Some will like it. And some will wonder why you even bothered to write it. The only way you can please everyone is by writing something that’s like money. But when you do that, you’re writing a generic, meaningless book. And the best gifts are the ones that have the most thought in them.
But the most important thing to remember is that someday, someone will be asking for your book for Christmas.
Unless you don’t finish the book, in which case,
GO FINISH THE BOOK!