How the Grinch Beat Writer's Block: 4 Lessons from Dr. Seuss' Classic Christmas Story

Whether December is your favorite month or you’re a Grinch about it, looking back at holiday classics can give you some new ideas about your own story. Here are four inspiring story ideas that writers can take from Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
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With the 1966 classic short film adaptation, the 2000 live-action film starring Jim Carrey, and the most recent feature-length computer animated film that no one asked for, suffice to say that everyone has loved How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss (a.k.a. Theodor Geisel) since its publication in 1957.

Whether December is your favorite month or you’re a Grinch about it, looking back at this holiday classic can give you some new ideas about your own story. Quintessential holiday stories can serve as trusted evidence that the plot twists and devices used in the story are effective and will resonate with readers for many years to come—even if you’re not writing about snowflakes, ornaments or anything else the Grinch may have stolen and packed onto his sleigh.

Here are four inspiring story ideas that writers can take from Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

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1. Even small hearts can grow large.

One reason Dr. Seuss’ story has stood the test of time is the universal and timeless—yet simple—plot device of the Grinch’s three-sizes-too-small heart growing large.

Readers love to see the most unexpected characters have a change of heart. In this case, the villain becomes the hero of the story (although, it can be argued that you’re not really a hero if all you did was save Whoville from your own destruction). Still, it makes an engaging twist to see the character that you’d least expect to change undergo a transformation.

While this is a common plot device in many winter holiday stories (Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, Walter Hobbs in Elf), an unexpected change of heart can happen in any story. Why not let the grumpy police chief that doesn’t like to work be the one that solves the case of the missing teenage girl that has left the rest of the detectives stumped? Or, a woman’s estranged father could come back into her life and become the world’s best grandpa to her five foster children.

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2. Things are not always what they seem—including the reason behind your writer's block. 

The Grinch was surprised to hear the people of Whoville singing dahoo dores and welcoming Christmas to come their way, even if it came without ribbons, tags, packages, boxes or bags. It’s enough to make his eyes magically turn a sparkly blue and gain the strength to save his runaway sleigh of stolen goods.

Many successful authors say that they do not believe in writer’s block—they believe in idea block. If you are suffering from idea block in writing a story or trying to find something to write about, take a cue from the Grinch. Your hangup probably isn’t about what you think it is about.

You don’t have to go on a middle-of-the-night stealing spree to figure out what the problem is. Give your story some extra thought and try looking at it from as many different perspectives as you can think of. For example, maybe the reason you can’t seem to think of the proper fight dialogue between your protagonist and her awful grandmother isn’t because you can’t decide what petty thing they should argue about. It may be because you haven’t looked back at how the grandmother came to be awful in the first place.

3. Try looking at things from a child’s point of view.

This is another way to help generate new ideas for your story. Part of the Grinch’s journey to his change of heart was being kind to Cindy Lou Who. (We can say he was kind for finding her a drink and sending her back to bed, even if he was also lying to her at the same time.)

Even if there is room for debate about the nature of the Grinch’s interaction with Cindy, it is helpful to see the scene from her point of view. Being no more than two, she is able to believe the Grinch’s lie about why he was taking their Christmas tree. One might also wonder how she did not notice that the fake Santa was green or how the Grinch knew where the Lou Whos kept their cups and drinks. Simply looking at this interaction from other angles provides more material to expand the story.

If there are children in your story, try seeing how scenes would look from their perspective. You may even need to add new characters for this purpose. Or, think about how things looked to you as a child to get an idea of what the little ones might see.

4. Take a break for some good food and company.

The Grinch wasn’t working on writing a story, but he did enjoy the Christmas feast and carving the roast beast. Anyone can enjoy a nice meal and some uplifting company, and sometimes this is all that is needed to cure anything that ails the story or the writer.

Have you spent all day inside your home working on your story? Reward yourself with some time with friends. Do the same even if you haven’t gotten much done because the words won’t form in your head. A break is an effective way to clear your mind and give it the space it needs to work effectively.

Some of the lessons from Dr. Seuss never fail. Try looking at his other classic stories to find more plot devices and storytelling techniques that can inspire your next book.

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