Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Keep universal symbols in mind when you write

white rose = purity, plastic = fake
Every writer should keep aware of their use of the symbols (mythologies, metaphors, colors, etc.) that subconsciously attract, repel and inform readers.  For instance, let's use the age old feature of color.  Red denotes passion, rage, anger, love, disease, destruction, corruption, etc.  So if you put a woman in white, you could be providing a contrast or a condition.
  • The woman is corrupted but presents herself as pure.
  • The woman is pure
  • the woman is potentially pure, but in danger of being corrupted
  • etc.
Let's examine red when it is combined with white.  Hawthorne did this with great effect in "Young Goodman Brown."  Brown's young wife wore pink ribbons.  Did the ribbons represent her inexperience (youth) or was it the fact that she was a wife (therefore no longer pure) so her once white symbols have passion/love diffused into them?  Or has she lost purity and been corrupted by the devil, and the symptom of this corruption is the pink ribbons in her hair.  Were her ribbons white, could the reader then assume she is innocent?  But her ribbons are pink, so has she been corrupted?  The journey of Young Goodman Brown is based on his concern over her purity.

These features add depth to the work.  So the writer must examine their work for those universal symbols that our readers will catch consciously or subconsciously, thus providing greater depth of characterization and perhaps conflict of character.

Symbols to consider:
  • names
  • color
  • occupations (general:  cabinet maker, hero, prince, clock maker)
  • hats
  • objects
  • shapes of features (narrow set eyes denote criminals, large eyes innocence)
Here is a simple example.  One of my students named two of her characters John and Sheela.  The student chose the names because she felt they were common everyday names and would place her characters with the working class.  John was concerned that his wife was cheating on him.  I pointed out to my student that the name John when combined with Sheela created a symbolic factor that played well with her plot.  John a term used for men who solicit sex in exchange for money combined with Sheela a term with conflicting mythological meaning regarding corruption (either as protection from devils or symbolic of sexual fertility) would lead the reader to assume the wife was in fact cheating on him and perhaps he was just as flawed because he viewed her as a means of sexual satisfaction.  The student was shocked she had chosen names that would have this effect.  She changed the name of the woman immediately. 

I used the name Miranda for one of my characters because I liked the added connotation of knowledge and wisdom that went with the name.  Vivian, an overly attentive mother, for its closeness to vivacious, and Misty, Miranda's daughter, because of both her internal conflict over her relationship with her father and his conflict about being a single father.

What symbols have you made use of in your work?  What symbols have you seen used by other writers in the works you have read?

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