30 October 2013

An Abundance of Symbolism

I was a sophomore in high school when we read Lord of the Flies. It was a long, grueling unit filled with endless discussions and essay topics. We would even take paragraphs and break down every single word to show how they symbolized this or that. Every word in the book had its place. This sort of thing happened a lot in high school English classes: they want you to pick out themes and symbols and figure out what the author was really trying to say.

Well, I wasn't buying it. I'd been writing since I was eight years old and I had not once tried to put any symbolism in anything I had written. I was convinced that no writer ever actually did this on purpose, and that English teachers just found all these things in books to give us more work. I thought all writers really did was tell stories. Anything else was accidental.

If I could go back and talk to my sophomore self, I'd probably slap her. Because I love, love, LOVE symbolism. Of course writers put it into their stories on purpose! We're geniuses. But she was half right. Sometimes it is accidental. But that doesn't mean we don't notice it.

I use a ton of symbolism and other devices to weave a more intricate story. Remember how I subtly use cannibalism to be symbolic? Yes, on the surface, you're just telling a story. You've got characters and setting and plot. But underneath is where all the juicy stuff lies. Stuff that not everyone may even notice. I think that's the most fun part about it.

Most often, symbolism is used in the form of an object representing a more abstract idea. That doesn't mean you have to limit yourself to whatever is lying around your character's house. I feel that underneath my main story line is an intricate web of linking moments, characters who mirror each other, words that are repeated a specific number of times. And if you brush up on your Ancient Greek history, you might know exactly why I have a scene where my characters are looking at statues in a museum.

Sometimes it works the other way around. Sometimes I have to figure out why I put a particular object in a scene and then figure out how I can make it work in a symbolic way. If I didn't find a way to make them work, they would seem awkward and out of place. Like any other moment in your novel, there needs to be a reason for it. You don't want to have something there just for the hell of it.

Symbolism and other literary devices can be a lot of fun if you know how to make them work for your story. I could ramble for days about it, and probably will again. Hopefully this made at least a little sense. :)

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