|Traffic light photo by alvimann at Morguefile.com|
Do you notice symbols when you are reading? Or, for that matter, in the world around you? They can sometimes be easy to overlook, I think.
Do you incorporate them into your writing? Symbols can add meaning, highlight the underlying theme, or even nudge a reader to make certain connections. I like symbols best when they occur organically and throughout a story, as long as they are not stuffed into the text with a heavy, over-enthusiastic hand. Like mine. When I revise, I often have to delete a symbol or two (or three) that I like too much.
I love coming across symbols while I am reading. Maybe a character has a beloved bicycle that she rides in the beginning of a story. The bicycle ends up at the back of the garage as the story rolls along. This could be a subtle indicator of what is going on in the character’s life. Maybe the bike symbolizes the character being neglected or distracted from what she loves. Maybe the bicycle shows that she’s growing out of a bicycle-riding stage. The bicycle could be just a bike, or it could be a symbol or reflection of what is going on in the character’s life.
Ring photo by lisafanucchi at Morguefile.com
Symbols don’t have to be objects, either. They can be phrases, gestures, or character traits. The trick, for writers, is to be sure that the symbols sprout in a natural way from the story. Whenever I force a symbol into a story, it’s obvious. As in there’s an orangutan sitting at the kitchen table obvious. It’s best to pull symbols from what the story offers.
What are some of your favorite symbols from your reading and writing? I still think about that famous pie from The Help. And, of course, who could forget Frodo’s quest for that symbol of all symbols—the ring?