Episode 223: Ceremonies, Events, and Rituals – Built in Stakes

On March 25th, Kasie was in Texas so we presented this pre-recorded show building on the built-in-stakes of sports. Here are the show notes:

Theme for the day

Built-in drama: Family Rituals & Life Milestones


  • The Little Dramas that make Big tension
  • Choices your protagonist can make in the moment
  • The role of rituals in the story
bride and groom walk under sparklers
Photo by u0410u043du043du0430 u0425u0430u0437u043eu0432u0430 on Pexels.com

Rituals, ceremonies, and gatherings are fun for fiction writers because even the stupidest things can boil over. We looked at this once before, but it’s been a long time (Episode 19).

Here’s a list of topics for today’s show:

  • Family rituals – funerals, weddings, holidays
  • Corporate events – parties, benefits, ceremonies
  • Pregnancy, birth, and parenthood – oh the drama! Even just thinking one of these can complicate things
  • Big purchases – house, car, company; whenever there’s a lot of money at stake, there’s drama
  • Rites of passage – graduation ceremonies, milestones, birthdays
  • New environments – moving to a new town, starting a new job, first day of school
  • New arrivals – stranger arrives in town, new kid in school, new coworker hired
  • Games – chess, monopoly, poker; games have rules and how and when the players follow them (or don’t) can cause drama

What creates the drama?

Spending time with people you don’t see frequently – deliberately – but are forced together out of obligation. And the tension between them can be ignored, resolved, or exasperated.

  • Ignore it – pretend the elephant ain’t there
  • Resolve it – force the issue, demand an apology
  • Expound it – escalate the fight with new sins or behaviors

How much of these rituals do you indulge in? Go along with? They might not mean anything to you so why are you pretending?

Corporate events – office Christmas party, awards ceremonies, mandatory training

  • What’s on the line for the character? Are they ambitious? Do they need to keep the job for some reason?
  • There are power dynamics in office work and in any employment that create some built-in stakes.

Segment 3

Holidays – Thanksgiving is the biggest because it’s rife with irony. The character who is suffering or hating their own life, being forced to be grateful can be a tipping point. 

Cliches in Thanksgiving dramas – screw up alcoholic, the pressure to have a baby, pressure to get married, lesbian or gay offspring comes out, racist or bigoted character who doesn’t accept a invited guest, and the expectations therein.

Expectations – two ways 1) yours always sucked and you want to make the kids’ better, 2) yours were awesome and you want to pass that on to them.

Segment 4

Are these cheap devices or strategic storytelling? If you’re a panster, you may just be following people through their day and wondering why it’s so boring.

Maybe one of these circumstances could infuse drama for you?

What’s at stake?

These should be naturally occurring events, there’s some foreshadowing involved. Some foreshadow devices: invitations, announcements, calendar.

The scarred psyche is where these dramas come from. The scars are harder to hide when the people you’re with are the ones who were there when you got them.

Why is this event occurring? What is the drama here?

The ritual adds drama but it’s kindling.
Here’s a blog on ways to write about holidays in fiction. We didn’t discuss it on the air, but it might b useful to you. And here’s another one with 5 ways to use holidays in fiction.

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