Monday, September 14, 2009

Ooooh, the Symbolism!

Tip of the Day: Stephen Colbert is back from vacation! New episode tonight. Woo-hoo!

That Stephen Colbert cracks me up. Have you ever seen his movie reviews? He reviewed the disaster flick 2012 (you can see it here if you like) by raving about a sequence from the promos. The White House is demolished by tidal wave when it's crushed by the aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy. "That's got to represent something!" Colbert gushes.

Am I guilty of symbolism that doesn't mean anything? I've written what I think are passages that contain symbolism. For example, I have the main character in one of my novels feeding a seagull. In case you've never lived near the water--you're not supposed to feed seagulls. It's like feeding city rats. But it's supposed to mean that she's the type of person who forgets to follow the rules when she thinks someone needs help. In this case, the hungry seagull, who other people might find disgusting. Oooh, deep, right? Like the USS Kennedy crushing the White House.

Well, at least I'm trying. You have to try, right? I have another manuscript where some boys are breaking into an abandoned house. Outside the house, one of the boys pulls a bush away from a basement window. It's a thorn bush and it cuts him. That was supposed to mean "there's danger in this window." But one of my critiquers asked why he'd stick his hand in a thorn bush. Well, he didn't know it was a thorn bush, but he's not my viewpoint character so that didn't come out well. I could rewrite it, but that seems like a lot of work for a little bit of cheesy symbolism. Sometimes I just have to experiment, throw something against the wall and see if it sticks. And be thankful that I have great critiquers so I can figure out if something doesn't stick.

I bother with this because I love finding those details in my reading. I just read PYONGYANG by Guy DeLise about a Canadian staying in North Korea. If there are important foreign visitors in his hotel, fresh melon is available in the hotel restaurant. The rest of the time, fresh fruit is almost impossible to find throughout the city. Whenever he has a scene with characters talking over a meal, he notes whether there's melon or not. It becomes a symbol of the total control the North Korean government has over daily life and how they use that power. PYONGYANG is memoir, not fiction, so I'm pretty impressed that DeLise found symbolism in real life. Maybe that's the key to writing it in fiction?

What about you? Got any bits you're proud of, or anything that seems like the USS Kennedy smashing into the Blue Room? I'd love to know how people handle this.

-- Kate, Miss Perfecting the Pages


Lisa Schroeder said...

I'm so envious of authors who do the symbolism thing well! I also love it when I'm reading, although I don't find things very often. I'm not that deep of a reader. :)

DeenaML said...

Just throw a red "S" on your character's shirt -- it can mean SINNER, SUPERMAN, SYMBOL HERE, or whatever you want! That's what I learned from Hester Pryne! :)

And yeah, seagulls....I think THEY mean danger coming in the form of poop on one's head....