I’ve long insisted that Halloween is my all-time favorite holiday. “The wax lips!” I always say. “The candy corn! The plastic hatchets!”
But my Halloween love is actually about far more than that. Just as my love of ghost / scary stories is about far more than the fake blood. (While we’re at it, when I say I love horror stories, I’m actually more of a fan of a psychological thriller than a complete slash-and-dash bloodbath…)
It’s recently occurred to me, though, that the real reason I love Halloween is a pretty writerly one: it gives me chance to make stuff up.
Catherine Ryan Hyde smartly commented on a post at my MG blog, Smack Dab in the Middle, that one of the biggest misconceptions about novelists is that they consistently write thinly-veiled autobiographies. Like our own Catherine, I also write completely fictitious, invented works—none of the situations or characters featured in my books are ripped from my own life. I get a serious kick out of making stuff up. Creating a whole world completely of my own invention.
Yep—grape-flavored bloodshot eyeballs will always have an incredible amount of charm. But even when I was little, the costumes were what I loved most about Halloween. I loved figuring out—usually by mid-summer—how I was going to dress up. And I don’t really mean that I looked forward to being someone other than me. I mean I loved figuring out how to create a mummy or hobo or bobby-soxer. (Only one year in all of the—ahem—fourteen that I trick-or-treated did I have a store-bought costume. Looking back, it was by far my least favorite.) I loved the getting-to-make-it-up.
But that’s what we get to do every day as writers. On the page, we get to dress up and become a fictional “I.” We get to look at the world through someone else’s eyes. We get to invent.
Ditto for the horror flicks. I’m a complete sucker for the tension-filled scenes you know so well: the protagonist is standing on one side of the door; a strange noise has just erupted on the other. The protagonist begins to breathe hard, slowly reaching for the doorknob. At this point, my mind always goes into overdrive as I imagine what is on the opposite side of that door.
Again, as is the case with Halloween, I get to make it all up. Until the opposite-side-of-the-door is revealed, of course. But I love those who-know-what’ll-happen-next moments.
…I haven’t quite decided what I’m going to be yet this year, what I’m going to wear to greet the trick-or-treaters who will ring my bell. Right now, I’m having too much fun imagining the possibilities, making up a hundred different scenarios, imagining this year’s who-knows-what.