Symbols in writing

Karalee’s Post #66

My husband organized a weekend away to celebrate Valentine’s Day, a ‘staycation’ in our own city of Vancouver, Canada. It’s unusual for us to celebrate this occasion as we’ve considered it mainly as an avenue for the card, flower and chocolate companies to cash in on commercialized symbols of love. 

But, as Paula has shown us through many examples of older writers coming into their own, it is never too late and one is never too old.

And I can bet one never tires of being appreciated and shown how much they are loved. Of course, it doesn’t have to be on Valentine’s Day, but who cares if it is?

I believe it is human nature for us to make generalizations according to our culture and experiences (whether right or wrong), and it is this tendency that certain ‘things’ come to symbolize other ‘things,’ such as a heart = love; flowers = love/caring; a car = travel/status/freedom; house = love/family/security; and many personal things can have personal meanings.

Often the media and marketing by companies add hype to these symbols to cash in on them in the form of gifts to celebrate occasions such as birthdays, special religious or historical events, Valentine’s Day, and on and on.

But let’s not forget that writers use symbols too. Just as a picture says a thousand words, an action by one of our characters doing something to someone/something can convey emotions or give information that otherwise takes hundreds of words to describe by ‘long-hand.’  For example:

  • a man giving his lover a bouquet of red roses as she runs to catch a plane to her new job in a new country
  • a beggar giving food to a starving dog
  • an pianist caressing a lucky necklace before her debut concert
  • a man clenching his fist at neighbours who are keeping him awake while they party
  • a man clenching his fist in excitement in a crowd that is screaming at the win of an Olympic medal

When you consider the above actions, not only do they convey emotions, they also reveal something about the character of the person doing the action. This is a powerful way to show who a character is. Conversely, if a reader expects a character to react a certain way to a situation and she doesn’t, this also reveals who the character is and/or gives information about the situation.

For instance in the example above, the man bringing roses for his lover is showing that he has strong feelings for her, and the reader would expect the woman to receive them with gratitude. But, if she throws them down and stomps on them, the reader is shown in very few words that the relationship isn’t so warm and cozy.

Using symbols  to convey emotions and characterization, whether they are cultural or unique to your character, can add depth to your writing and is another tool to keep in mind during the writing process.

What symbols do you use in your writing?

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