12 Days of Christmas Writing Tips

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Happy Holidays

Just got an e-newsletter from the North Pole and Santa had these writing tips posted for the young-at-heart who are writing novels this year. Stay tuned: Santa promised to send me Rudolph’s writing tips tomorrow.


As our holiday gift to you, We are offering all 5 Winter and Holiday Writing Tips series posts as a free pdf:

Download Winter Writing with Kids Pdf Now – Free.

Happy Holidays! Included are:

  • Santa Claus’s Top 5 Writing Tips
  • 12 Days of Christmas Writing Tips
  • The Gingerbread Man’s Top 5 Writing Tips
  • Frosty the Snowman’s Top 6 Writing Tips
  • Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer’s Top 5 Writing Tips

The Twelve Days of Christmas Writing Tips

Image by Keith Williamson

Image by Keith Williamson

These writing tips are based on the song, “The 12 Days of Christmas” and focus on structure and language.

  1. On the first day of Christmas,
    my true love sent to me
    A partridge in a pear tree.

    Play with alliteration. Part of the reason the opening stanza works is the repetition of the initial sound, P, in partridge and pear. Can you add alliteration or other language play in your story?

  2. On the second day of Christmas,
    my true love sent to me
    Two turtle doves,
    And a partridge in a pear tree.

    Set up a cumulative pattern. This stanza is important because it sets up the pattern: we now know that this is a cumulative story, a story that adds a line each time and repeats all the other lines. Some cumulative stories keep going and take off a line each time. Study other cumulative stories, then try writing one.

  3. On the third day of Christmas,
    my true love sent to me
    Three French hens,
    Two turtle doves,
    And a partridge in a pear tree.

    Consider your audience. Always, you want to consider the audience for your work. For example in this video, the audience is Canadians and those interested in all things Canuck.

    If you can’t see this video, click here.


    Darcy’s Best Writing Advice: Fiction Notes Books


  4. On the fourth day of Christmas,
    my true love sent to me
    Four calling birds,
    Three French hens,
    Two turtle doves,
    And a partridge in a pear tree.

    Parodies of this song are popular. They demonstrate the importance of playing with the themes, structures and particulars of a story to create something fresh and new. Have fun.
    In this video, “The 12 Pains of Christmas,” the concept is turned on it’s head.

    If you can’t see this video, click here.

  5. On the fifth day of Christmas,
    my true love sent to me
    Five golden rings,
    Four calling birds,
    Three French hens,
    Two turtle doves,
    And a partridge in a pear tree.

    Vary the rhythms When you do a long story, try to find places where the language can slow down the rhythm. This line is traditionally slow, extending the story and adding variety.

  6. On the sixth day of Christmas,
    my true love sent to me
    Six geese a-laying,
    Five golden rings,
    Four calling birds,
    Three French hens,
    Two turtle doves,
    And a partridge in a pear tree.

    Variety within a pattern is established here. We’re still adding a line each time, but now the verb at the end becomes important. For longer pieces like this be sure to add variety to keep the interest.

  7. On the seventh day of Christmas,
    my true love sent to me
    Seven swans a-swimming,
    Six geese a-laying,
    Five golden rings,
    Four calling birds,
    Three French hens,
    Two turtle doves,
    And a partridge in a pear tree.

    Numbers are often important to picturebooks, classic songs and our culture. For example, there are three little pigs and seven dwarves. Part of this fascination with numbers is cultural. In the Navajo culture, four is important: the four cardinal directions and the four sides of a hogan. Three and seven repetitions are generally in northern European stories. Nine is three-threes and twelve is four-threes (or three-fours). Watch for repetitions in stories and notice how many times something repeats. Try retelling stories with a different number of repeats and notice what it does for the story.

  8. On the eighth day of Christmas,
    my true love sent to me
    Eight maids a-milking,
    Seven swans a-swimming,
    Six geese a-laying,
    Five golden rings,
    Four calling birds,
    Three French hens,
    Two turtle doves,
    And a partridge in a pear tree.

    Play with language. Here’s the Straight No Chaser men’s accapella choir. By the time they get to the 8th day, things get very complicated — and wonderful. Don’t be afraid to play and have fun with language.

    If you can’t see this video, click here.

  9. On the ninth day of Christmas,
    my true love sent to me
    Nine ladies dancing,
    Eight maids a-milking,
    Seven swans a-swimming,
    Six geese a-laying,
    Five golden rings,
    Four calling birds,
    Three French hens,
    Two turtle doves,
    And a partridge in a pear tree.

    Use great verbs. Notice the verbs that are added each time. They make the story come alive with action. Wikipedia has a great introduction to the history of this song. This article includes the lyrics, the music and links to parodies.

  10. On the tenth day of Christmas,
    my true love sent to me
    Ten lords a-leaping,
    Nine ladies dancing,
    Eight maids a-milking,
    Seven swans a-swimming,
    Six geese a-laying,
    Five golden rings,
    Four calling birds,
    Three French hens,
    Two turtle doves,
    And a partridge in a pear tree.

    Use strong nouns. Just as important is the use of specific nouns. The story doesn’t have generic birds; instead, we have a partridge, turtle doves, calling birds, and geese. Be as specific as possible in choosing nouns.

  11. On the eleventh day of Christmas,
    my true love sent to me
    Eleven pipers piping,
    Ten lords a-leaping,
    Nine ladies dancing,
    Eight maids a-milking,
    Seven swans a-swimming,
    Six geese a-laying,
    Five golden rings,
    Four calling birds,
    Three French hens,
    Two turtle doves,
    And a partridge in a pear tree.

    Don’t stop too early. The temptation in a story like this, especially a cumulative story that gets longer with each stanza, is to stop too soon. Instead, this story goes the full dozen stanzas. Take a deep breath — and finish what you started. Don’t give up before you finish a writing project. See it through to the end.

  12. On the twelfth day of Christmas,
    my true love sent to me
    Twelve drummers drumming,
    Eleven pipers piping,
    Ten lords a-leaping,
    Nine ladies dancing,
    Eight maids a-milking,
    Seven swans a-swimming,
    Six geese a-laying,
    Five golden rings,
    Four calling birds,
    Three French hens,
    Two turtle doves,
    And a partridge in a pear tree!

    Finish what you started. Notice that each stanza builds on the previous and the whole cumulative stanza here is satisfying. Create a unified story that hangs together.

    And you just have to end with Burl Ive’s version with its lush illustrations.

    If you can’t see this video, click here.

2 Comments
  • Rosi
    December 3, 2013

    This is great. I had never studied the song in this way and have some ideas about how to use all this good information. Thanks for this post.

  • Mary Nida Smith
    December 4, 2013

    Thanks Darcy, very interesting.