Analysis & Comment

Opinion | Notes on ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’

Your opening could be much stronger. You start by listing a bunch of characters the reader is somehow supposed to “know,” but their names are things like “Vixen and Blitzen” and “Dancer and Prancer.” Was the rhyming intentional? It was distracting. Remember that even though it’s fiction, it’s meant to be believable. Give these characters names like Fred, Luke, Greg, etc.

Then you introduce this “most famous reindeer of all” character. Your protagonist needs to have something at stake. Give this character a developed backstory and clear motivations. Instead of “Rudolph,” try calling him Dave Reindeer, a talented yet isolated writer who has been estranged from his family for the past 17 years.

“You would even say it glows” feels a little flat. Add a simile here, and make sure it’s consistent with Dave’s character. For example, “Glows like the end of every cigarette he swore would be his last.”

We have this harrowing flashback where we learn that Dave’s family laughed and called him names when he was a child. But all this name-calling happens off the page. To help the reader empathize with Dave, show us a few of these insults. It will allow us to really understand why Dave was so driven to move to a big city where he didn’t know anyone, rent a one-bedroom apartment and struggle through a series of setbacks until one day becoming a best-selling novelist.

You also gloss over the psychological games the Reindeer family would play. I would love to learn more about how his parents would ignore Dave’s artistic achievements but would proudly display all of his brother Fred’s basketball trophies on the mantelpiece.

Then suddenly we jump forward in time to Christmas Eve. There’s a character called “Santa,” but I’m thinking he would work better as Rob Reindeer, Dave’s distant father who is finally coming to make amends. Here’s an original idea: Rob can surprise his son by standing in line at one of his book signings!

Not sure what “guide my sleigh” refers to, but you could make this scene more impactful by describing how Dave and Rob tearfully embrace as Rob apologizes for their long, bitter estrangement.

Toward the end of the piece, Dave’s family joyfully celebrates being together again. We see how his family has changed as they “shout with glee” but we’re missing Dave’s reaction here. Did he forgive them for their years of childhood neglect? Where is our update on Fred and how a college knee injury prevented him from ever playing professional sports? There’s a lot that needs to be unpacked here.

The ending feels too neatly resolved to be believable. You write that Dave is going to be remembered throughout all of history, but that’s too vague. We need specifics and an unexpected twist. How about a woman who’s a fan of Dave’s work sees him at a bar and slips him her number on a lipstick-stained cocktail napkin, but later on that night when Dave calls the number, a man answers and tells Dave that he’s kidnapped his father and won’t release him unless Dave can come up with $1.5 million in cash by sunrise? That’s a much stronger ending!

Overall though, really great stuff. A gut-wrenching story with a strong, complex character. Bravo. Can’t wait to find out what happens to Dave’s dad in the next draft!

Ysabel Yates is a humor writer in New York City.

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