Hi, Clement. Merry Christmas!
Another holiday season is jingling its bells right in our face and I’m loving it.
As you know, I’ve been looking over ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas (note: please provide other title options). I have a bunch of notes here and time is short, so let’s get right to it.
‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
Nobody says “‘Twas.” Think of your audience: do you really want to pick a fight with them on word one? “It was” will do nicely. Also, why introduce the idea of a rodent infestation right off the bat? Yuck.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
Christmas is a special time of year when we get to lie to children. But let’s keep our lies straight, shall we? Who is this St. Nicholas? Whatever happened to Santa? No one wants confusion for Christmas.
The children were nestled all snug in their beds;
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
Nice image of the children, but I have never had, seen, or even heard of a sugar plum. I asked around—nobody in the office has either. Consider “visions of holiday-edition M&M’s danced in their heads”? Kids love M&M’s. Also, Editorial is pushing cross-promotions this year.
Sidebar: What’s with all the semicolons? Semicolons scare people. No one is sure what to do when they see one. Stick to commas and periods. Remember, people long for comfort and familiarity this time of year, Clem. Pandering is a classic holiday tradition.
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap,
Who wears hats to bed? And lose the “settled our brains” stuff. Makes me squeamish, to be honest. How about “We had just fallen asleep” instead? Sometimes the simplest words are the best words. Try to keep this in mind.
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow,
Gave a lustre of midday to objects below,
When what to my wondering eyes did appear,
But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny rein-deer,
With a little old driver so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment he must be St. Nick.
You used ten lines to say, basically, that he gets up, goes to the window, and looks outside. I’m not opposed to fancy writing, but can we get this down to five lines at the most, please? Another thing to think about: This rhyme scheme is pretty relentless. Over the course of the poem, it forces you into some strange, dark places. Is it worth it? Kill your darlings, Clem.
Also: I don’t get how a “miniature” sleigh and a bunch of “tiny” reindeer can knock anybody out of a decent sleep. Consider making Santa normal size, the way you see him at the mall.
And St. Nick? (Why so informal?) Again, bring back Santa.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name:
“Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”
Nope. No one cares about reindeer names. It’s Rudolph, or it’s nothing.
As leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the housetop the coursers they flew
With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too—
Again, you tend to go on and on. They flew to the rooftop. That’s it. And what were they doing crashing around the front yard in the first place? Delete all that (see previous notes) and cut to them landing on the roof.
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.
His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples, how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard on his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke, it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly
That shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
So mini-Santa comes down and… totally ruins the house with soot and ashes and smoke? Merry Christmas! I’ve given you the magical gift of chores! Note: Opportunity for cross-promotion with Dyson here.
The “little round belly” that shakes like a “bowl full of jelly” makes me uncomfortable. Let’s delete most of this: he sounds like a festive dessert.
Also, this is 2015, Clem. Forget the pipe, sends the wrong message. Consider making Santa a vaper—or, even better, perhaps he enjoys a good hot cup of always caffeine-free Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime® Tea (available in most markets and on Amazon).
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
How does he go up the chimney if he doesn’t have superpowers? Are you having fever dreams again?
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight—
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”
So… that’s it? Santa wakes up the neighborhood, breaks into a house, stuffs a few presents into socks, dirties up the place, and then… ciao? No other deserving kids live on that block? No shout-outs to the elves? Seems like a lot of buildup for not much payoff. Let’s end stronger, more of a call to action. And who says “Happy Christmas”? John and Yoko? Wrong audience.
Clem, I know this must seem like a lot, but we all think it was a fine first effort! If you buckle down and make these revisions, then maybe, and I know this sounds crazy, but just maybe we could have a holiday classic on our hands here. I can’t wait to see what you come up with! As long as you come up with it soon. Really soon.
Ho, ho, ho!
Illustration by Byron O'Neill