Last night, my son (on the blog, we call him “Tesla” for his mad scientist propensities) handed out Halloween candy to trick-or-treaters. As always, he dressed up for the occasion, though this year’s costume surpassed all his previous attempts.
He went as “Charlie Brown’s ghost costume.”
I’ll take a minute to let that sink in. As anyone who’s seen It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown will remember, the Peanuts’ Halloween Special featured the Peanuts gang attending a Halloween party while Linus sat in the pumpkin patch, waiting for The Great Pumpkin. Lucy van Pelt dressed up as a witch, but the majority of the gang dressed as ghosts – essentially bedsheets with holes to see through. Charles Schultz did make it easy to recognize two of the characters through the costumes, however: PigPen was surrounded by his usual swirling cloud of dust, and poor Charlie Brown managed to get two dozen “eye holes” cut in his sheet instead of the usual two.
My son found this hilarious.
We hadn’t watched the special in years, but last week it came on TV and we turned it on “for old time’s sake.” Halfway through the show, Tesla sat up on the couch and declared, “That’s what I’m wearing for Halloween. I’m going as the Charlie Brown Ghost.”
So last night, a 6’1″ hole-covered ghost handed out candy in my living room, while I watched and laughed at the trick-or-treaters’ reactions. Quite a few recognized the costume, and they all found it amusing.
For my own part, I thought Tesla made an interesting choice on several levels. First, the costume looked great. It’s impossible not to snicker at a ghost with 47 holes in his sheet. More importantly, however, Tesla tapped into something unique, which I as a writer appreciate. His costume was entertaining on its own, but also referenced a cultural landmark – an “in joke” that was shared with anyone who recognized the reference. As a writer, I like humor that works on multiple levels.
A story, of itself, is nice. A story that makes the reader feel special or “included” can transform a story from a passive experience to an active one.
In selecting a costume that recalled a cultural icon, Tesla made at least some of the trick-or-treaters feel “special” – they “got the joke” and became part of Tesla’s “group” for the night. As a writer, I aspire to do the same. At the end of the novel, I want my readers to feel as though they participated in the experience, shared the protagonist’s trials and emerged victorious at the end.
In other words, that they got something more than … a rock.