It’s December 24th, and I find it virtually impossible to walk five feet in without being subjected to Christmas music. I heard did hear one song that struck me as a perfectly delivered story premise. Granted, this may be from my recent exposure to querying agents for fiction works. Capturing the essence of a 100,000 word novel in 100 words or less is hard. But I digress.
The Christmas carol in question is “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” and my favorite version of it was performed by the Jackson 5 (I even found it on YouTube).
Those six words aren’t just the title of the song. They also represent a wonderfully concise summary of an entire story, in which we have:
- A narrator. We know a few things about him or her already (I’ll use the male pronoun since Michael Jackson was singing it). From “Mommy” we know that this is a young child, probably between the ages of 4 and 8. And the very fact that he’s reporting this tells us that he’s still under the spell of Santa Claus magic.
- A voice. The youth comes through, of course, but there’s also a slightly accusatory tone to his words. He knows that something is wrong, and he’s not keeping quiet about it.
- Central conflict. This kid’s world has just come crashing down around him. What’s his mom thinking? Santa Claus is supposed to be this perfect character whose only mission is making children happy on Christmas. Turns out, he’s a homewrecker! And stepping out on Mrs. Claus, no less. What a scoundrel.
- A decision to make. What should the narrator do? Does he let it slide, or does he confront them, putting his own Christmas presents at risk? It might not seem life-or-death to you, but as a father of small children, I can tell you that their status with Santa Claus IS a matter of life-and-death.
- Dramatic irony. We know something the narrator doesn’t, and it’s a critical piece of the puzzle. That’s right, I even dusted off some English literature terminology for you. You’re welcome.
In the Jackson 5 version, there’s little ambiguity about what the narrator is going to do. MJ sings, “I’m going to tell my dad!”
Santa had better watch out… you don’t want Joe Jackson on your bad side!
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