Five Writing Truths We Can Learn from Christmas Carols

 

 2103 Christmas-Snow I have a confession to make: I love Christmas music. In fact, I like it so much that my wife had to institute a family rule—no Christmas music until after Thanksgiving. I eventually got her to compromise, convincing her that Christmas music was allowed before Thanksgiving, as long as it had snowed first. This year, pre-Thanksgiving, I had the stereo pumping “Jingle Bells” as soon as Virginia had its first snowfall.My wife accused me of cheating because we live in the state of Washington.

I say that she never specified the location of the snow.

Anyway, with Christmas now only one week away, I began to wonder what writing wisdom might be gleaned from the music of the season. From the traditional “Away in a Manger” to Elvis’s “Blue Christmas,” here are five Christmas songs and the writing truths they reveal:

1)      “Away in a Manger”: I don’t care if you are reading this while at work in a busy office. Don’t be shy. Go ahead and belt out the opening lines of this Christmas classic. What do you have? Within the first four measures, you already know about the no-crib issue.

If you want to pull in the reader, start with a problem that needs overcome.

2103 Christmas-Rudolph

2)      “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”: There’s more to be learned from Rudolph than the proper hyphenation of phrasal adjectives*. In fact, the writing truth embedded in the song is as illuminating as Rudolph’s nose:

A single unique trait is often enough to create a memorable character.

3)      “Blue Christmas”: Elvis had snow. He’d finished decorating the Christmas tree. But none of that could pull him from the doldrums of a blue Christmas. He was missing his “Dear.”

Have your protagonist struggle with the loss of something or someone he cares about.

4)      “Christmas Don’t Be Late” as sung by Alvin and the Chipmunks: The squeaky voices of Alvin, Simon, and Theodore get really annoying, really fast. My tolerance of their singing definitely doesn’t extend to listening to the whole song. So . . . when you write, I don’t care if your character is a singing chipmunk or a granny who grew up deep in the mountains of Kentucky.

Don’t overdo dialectical speech in yer dialogue. It’ll get distractin’.

5)      “The Christmas Song” (a.k.a., “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire”): Written on a hot summer day in 1944, “The Christmas Song” went from a few lines penciled in a notebook to a finished song in about 40 minutes. No, you probably won’t crank out a timeless masterpiece in under an hour. But . . .

You never know when the muse might strike.

Sometimes you just need to sit down, start writing, and see what happens.

Now, before you give your muse an opportunity to inspire, take a moment. Pick a Christmas carol. Pause and ponder. Then share with us some holiday-based writing wisdom of your own.

 2103 Christmas-Gift *Note: If you have no idea what a phrasal adjectives is, you may not know why you should never write about a “ten year old boy.” Thus, in the spirit of the season, I offer this ever-so-useful link as my grammatical gift to you: Grammarist: Phrasal adjectives.

 

8 Responses to Five Writing Truths We Can Learn from Christmas Carols

  1. One more: throw in a plot twist as does the last line of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”

  2. I love the “Grandma Got Ran Over by a Reindeer” example. Thanks for sharing, Brenda!

  3. O.K., I can’t resist…Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer. A reminder to add some humor.

  4. Hey, everyone! For some reason, my computer won’t let me post replies directly under others’ comments, but thanks to you folks who have shared your own bits of carol-based writing wisdom. I certainly never knew that “White Christmas” had swaying palm trees! :)

  5. Great post as usual, TP! My fave is “Frosty the Snowman.” Talk about magical realism!

  6. More for “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas”: there’s always room for a little nostalgia, even in children’s books–even a seven-year-old can grow wistful for when he was “little”.

  7. Great post, TJ! Here’s another lesson from Christmas songs: Get your setting right! I recently found out that White Christmas has a prelude that goes: The sun is shining/ The grass is green/The orange and palm trees sway/There’s never been such a day in Beverly Hills, L.A. No one every sings it, though, I’m thinking because it’s such a jarring image with Christmas.

  8. Linda Andersen

    T.P.,
    Loved this post. The magic of 3s is seen in this one: We Wish You a Merry Christmas!

    Linda Andersen