Take Five: #13 of 30: Signs and symbols

Take Five
Five-minute reads about writing
Nov. 3 - Nov. 30, 2010

Courtesy: Sasha Soren (Random Magic)
Twitter: @RandomMagicTour

#13 of 30: Signs and symbols

When you're writing a novel -- or working on any creative work, for that matter -- of course you have elements that are the most visible and straightforward.

You share information to help readers visualize and follow some particular story; they know what characters look like, how they speak, what happens to them. They're often privy to how a character feels, or what a character's background story might be.

But you might also include additional layers of meaning in the work, which aren't as immediately obvious, by including or referencing objects with connected symbolism. 

There are lots of meanings connected to particular colors, for example. The interesting thing is that the symbolism of specific colors even varies across different cultures. There are so many shades you can add to the palette, and it's fun to play with them. 

But symbolism can also give your work a depth it might not otherwise have. Or specific references can be interesting or hidden surprises for the reader. 

There are so many examples of the use of symbolism in literature that it would take too long to identify and explain even a handful of them. We only have five minutes! 

So, today, we're just going to examine one small example of symbolism used in Random Magic, followed with an opportunity for you to play with symbolism as you work on your own book. 

Ready? Here we go:

In the Garden of the Muses, the air is teeming with butterflies in vivid colors. It’s a beautiful image, but those little splashes of color also have a more subtle meaning.

The dazzling butterflies, in fact, literally are thoughts. The Ancient Greek word for 'butterfly' is ψυχή (psȳchē), which translates as 'soul' or 'mind.'

In one sense, the butterflies would be symbolic of the Muses' shifting thoughts. In another sense, they’d be the messengers of inspired thoughts to their favorite writers, artists, poets, or other seekers.

In a third sense, the butterflies represent the Muses' general benevolence, kindness and good nature toward mortal beings, since seeing a butterfly can symbolize that love is on its way to you soon, or that you'll see someone whose face you miss.

In the last sense, because a butterfly starts life as a lowly caterpillar, then a pupa, before finally emerging as something delicate and glorious, with a flutter of resplendent wings, the butterfly represents the creative process, itself.

These are just some things to consider when you're reading that section of the book -- and also, perhaps, the next time you happen to see a butterfly.

The section above was excerpted from the full essay, which you're welcome to read, if time permits: Symbolism example: Random Magic 

And now, perhaps you'd like to generate some alternatives for your own book, with this simple, five-minute exercise: Symbolism Exercise 

If you'd like some additional help, feel free to refer to this Dictionary of Symbolism to help with the exercise, or to enjoy this brief learning video:

About: Educator Laura Minnigerode kindly answers the question, 'What is symbolism?' (Length: About 90 secs.)

From author interview with Sasha Soren.
Interviewer: The Book Owl (Not on Twitter)

Video provided by eHow.

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