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General Writing Discussion For aspiring writers of science fiction and fantasy to discuss issues of writing.

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Old 2nd October 2011, 11:27 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Writing Symbolism

Hello! This is Braveheart174 with another noob question in regards to writing fantasy.

After reading certain fantasy titles written by authors such as Christopher Paolini, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Anne Rice, I realize that one of the key ingredients to writing a good story is to include certain aspects of symbolism within it. When I mean by symbolism is not something such as hieroglyphics to some ancient civilization. Rather, the symbolism that describes the deeper emotion or state of being that characters feel, or the sense of foreshadow that characters are bound to encounter.

In Anne Rice's Interview with a Vampire for example, Louis describes a moment in his life where he was staring at the fire in a hearth. This comes after he has turned 7-year old Claudia into a vampire, and is now in the realization of the horror he has committed. As Louis is staring into the hearth, he notices that the flame burns the log from the center before it engulfs it entirely. This seems a representation of Louis' state of being since Louis knows what crime he has done to Claudia, but is apt to tell her about it. Because of this, the truth begins to fester within Louis until it comes to the point where it destroys him from the inside.

This is the kind of symbolism that I would like to write. I have attempted to write such a form of symbolism in the past, but have only come up with scenes that are cliche to other works of writing.

Is there a book out there that teaches how to compose a passage that represents a person's state of being, or rather the atmosphere within a story?
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Old 2nd October 2011, 11:38 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Re: Writing Symbolism

Personally I find symbolism creeps into my stories without any effort from me and imoproves when I rewrite it.
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Old 3rd October 2011, 01:09 AM   #3 (permalink)
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Re: Writing Symbolism

I agree. If you try to force symbolism into your story, it won't work at all. If you write your book with heart as well as mind, the symbolism will develop as you go.

Anything else will feel artificial. (Because it would be artificial.)
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Old 3rd October 2011, 08:15 AM   #4 (permalink)
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Re: Writing Symbolism

For what it's worth, my advice is pretty much the same. Just keep on writing, honing your skills. I suspect everybody writes cliches sometimes, then, going back over their work, they groan and attempt to repair it.

The only other thing to do is to keep on reading, widely. Novels, in a way, are our textbooks to learn from.
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Old 3rd October 2011, 01:32 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Re: Writing Symbolism

Yep, same here. I would avoid anything that feels like it has to go in. If you're writing well, the stuff that will later appear in exam questions about your novel will come in of its own accord. If you really, really have to consciously add stuff, which I think few would advise, it's probably best put in once you've got the first draft finished, anyhow!
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Old 3rd October 2011, 03:58 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Re: Writing Symbolism

Well, perhaps take the key events you'd like to be symbolic and break them down into their component parts first of all.

In the example you use you talk of an adult vampire having turned a child into one, and reflecting on the consumption of a log in the first from the inside out.

The keys here are that vampirism is consuming, ends in ashen remains, and comes from within once afflicted.

Move on to a warewolf for example and you could say the transition from man to animal, the erosion of human reasoning and submission to base instincts could be symbolised in watching a heavily drunk man fight in the street, with disgusted onlookers around him, or a dog abused as a pup turning on its owner etc.

Hopefully it should come naturally, and not be forced or implanted. Personally I think I have a problem in too much musing by my characters and too much forced symbolism!
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Old 7th October 2011, 12:47 AM   #7 (permalink)
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Re: Writing Symbolism

Braveheart174,

Why don't you buy (or borrow from a library) a few books on symbolism? I have on my shelf A Dictionary of Symbols by J.E. Cirlot and The Bestiary of Christ by Louis Charbonneau-Lassay.

If you browse through them or other books in the same vein, you may find yourself inspired. I know that in my fiction, I love inserting symbolism as a special layer of meaning. It might be in a character's name to hint at a hidden meaning or choosing flowers. If using a flower I will look up to see what is the symbolic meaning associated with it as well as making sure that it is 1) in season when the story takes place 2) is something that would grow in that surrounding 3) not a plant from the New World if I am writing about 9th century Francia.

Case in point, I was interested in using sunflowers and wanted to make sure the underlying symbolic meaning wasn't opposing the scene and then discovered it was one more plant whose origins are from the Western hemisphere and so wouldn't be growing in Europe during the time of Charlemagne.

Also the colors of horses can indicate symbolic meaning as well.

Have fun with adding layers of meaning to your story. Even if no one else discovers it, you'll know you took care in choosing everything in your universe.
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Old 7th October 2011, 03:31 AM   #8 (permalink)
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Re: Writing Symbolism

I enjoyed reading Hero with a thousand faces. It deals with the reasons we love story cycles and why they all seem to harbor the same fundamental elements.
Knowing why you are telling the story you are telling is, to my view, more important then the telling itself. For me the why of my stories dictates the hidden symbols and meaning with in. Like other writers here, they creep in without my having to put them there, so trust your instincts. More often then I care to remember I have had a character tell me something that I was sure was going to ruin my story, but when I let them have their way, it came out better then the direction I was trying to force it into.
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Old 7th October 2011, 03:46 AM   #9 (permalink)
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Re: Writing Symbolism

Hi hope!

I have a similar experience almost every time I sit down and write. The whole "characters telling you the story" rather than the other way around. I'm not sure it works for me the same way symbolism does, but I can relate at least with that aspect of your post.

As far as the rest of this thread goes... is symbolism really all that powerful? I mean, when a person has finished writing their novel, are they the ones picking out what the symbolism is? or is it the analysts? Take Maynard Keenan. People misinterpret his songs all the time. I like others here don't purposefully put symbolism into my work, but I also don't see it creeping up on me, to the degree that I don't even know if I even have it in my story.

Is it wrong to not notice it? or is it just as wrong to have none at all?
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Old 7th October 2011, 03:57 AM   #10 (permalink)
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Re: Writing Symbolism

Quote:
Originally Posted by Phoenixthewriter View Post
Hi hope!

I have a similar experience almost every time I sit down and write. The whole "characters telling you the story" rather than the other way around. I'm not sure it works for me the same way symbolism does, but I can relate at least with that aspect of your post.

As far as the rest of this thread goes... is symbolism really all that powerful? I mean, when a person has finished writing their novel, are they the ones picking out what the symbolism is? or is it the analysts? Take Maynard Keenan. People misinterpret his songs all the time. I like others here don't purposefully put symbolism into my work, but I also don't see it creeping up on me, to the degree that I don't even know if I even have it in my story.

Is it wrong to not notice it? or is it just as wrong to have none at all?
hi
I dont think its wrong to not notice, and even if you dont put it in (as you pointed out) people will find their own in it. As long as a story is good it cant be wrong. My love of writing developed very very late. long after my love of story and especially myth. the book i recomended is a study on myth and dips a bit into psychology. as story tellers we are the communicators of the soul, we explain the inexplicable, and give voice to that which lies within.
symbolism will be there intended or no, the ability to shape and define what people find in your work will make or brake you in the annals of time.
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Old 7th October 2011, 05:25 AM   #11 (permalink)
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Re: Writing Symbolism

It took me a little while to find a good illustrative blog post, but here is one by my friend John Granger on the subject of literary alchemy being used in the Harry Potter series. He has written several companion books to the HP series and has lectured extensively in the States at different HP related conferences and symposiums.

His blog Hogwarts Professor dot com is a treasure trove of high minded literary discussion on the HP series as well as a few other popular series that he feels uses alchemical scaffolding in order to structure the stories.

Because I am still within my first fifteen posts I am not allowed to post links so bear with me in making the URL as recognizable as possible:

www (dot) hogwartsprofessor (dot) com/what-alchemy-does-in-harry-potter/

It is a short article for John and is a brief overview of his rather compelling arguments regarding the underlying meaning to her novels.

You can use symbolism throughout your story if you choose. Or you can simply pick things that sound good at the time of writing and laugh at people when they try to find deeper meaning when reading your writing.

I heard Sheldon Siegel laugh at the idea of deeper meaning in his novels. He described them as "trashy novels" designed to entertain someone on a plane trip across the country and not much more than that.
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