Do You Mean to Put in That Symbolism?

Do You Mean to Put in That Symbolism?

”What if the author didn’t meeeeean to put in all that symbolism?”

“Oh, Wendy, shut up. That’s ridiculous!” said the whole class.

This happened in 10th grade British Literature. Poor Wendy only asked what I was thinking, and I’m glad it was her and not me. I wish I could remember the teacher’s answer.

I often think about that moment in 1989, because it brings up a wonderful point. We studied the symbolism in stories—-that seems like all we did in literature class—and it is highly likely that at least half of it was not put there.

I’m not saying it wasn’t there. In fact, what I should say is that it was put there, but not consciously.

This is big—really big.

I’ll say it this way: When you write fiction, you will put in symbolism that lurks in the recesses of your mind, and if you are writing in flow, and in the Spirit, you will do this every time.

I am largely a writer of nonfiction. As a ghostwriter I’ve written over 100 nonfiction books, and only six novels. Each one of them was incredibly difficult for me to write. God bless you novelists.

But I love to discover that I inadvertently planted a symbol of a deep truth, or at least a deep truth held by one of the characters.

I’m sure some authors sit down and make a list of all the symbols they want to put in, but I’ll bet others have never even thought of it, though their books are full of them.

Here are a couple of examples of what I mean:

  1. When I was studying music and singing classical art songs, I learned that a nightingale in the poem usually represents unrequited love.
  1. In The Great Gatsby the green light at the end of the dock symbolizes Gatsby’s hopes and dreams far away and elusive.
  1. Turkish delight in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, represents the enticements of sin. Also consider what the lamp post, or winter, or Father Christmas might symbolize.
  1. In To Kill a Mockingbird there are Atticus’ glasses, representing moral insight and it is meaningful that he takes them off to shoot the dog. Also there is the snowman, Scout’s overalls, and Mrs. Dubose’s camellias. Drop a comment and let me know what you think some of these represent.

I am certain that many of these were planned, but I am equally certain that there are lots of symbols noticed and written about that are unplanned, but rather come from the depth of who the author is and what they think of the world.

The key to accidental (wonderful) symbolism is to get into that state of “deep calling out to deep” that happens when we write in the Spirit and in flow. I love flow. I chase it because I like what comes from it.

I like the way writing in that state is easy, and I love the way it causes me to find out things about myself I didn’t know consciously. Man, writing is so awesome! Praise God for inventing it!

I want to encourage you to pray, wait, get into that state where it’s easy to write, and the symbols will emerge without you noticing. It may take a 10th grade literature class to uncover all of them.

A Few More Thoughts About Symbolism

As I finished the above post, I remembered the reason I wanted to write about symbolism in the first place. I think symbols are powerful and necessary. I was thinking about this as I watched my daughter’s college graduation a few weeks ago.

All the pomp, circumstance, awards, and accolades had meaning. The school’s crest, the colors, the processions, speeches, all of it. I was especially choked up by the honor shown to high achievers accompanied by the thunderous applause of friends and family members who were there to celebrate the achievement of one of their own. I love that stuff.

If we can provide powerful and necessary symbols to our readers, we can inspire on levels that are beyond our ability to comprehend consciously.

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