So you can read my books

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


{Cover courtesy of the genius of Leonora Roy}
Why use symbolism?

Symbolism, when used well, adds depth and meaning to fiction. With a well chosen symbol, a writer can convey a complex idea with a single word.

If you watched the movie Avatar the 'dream' is very symbolic, as is 'flight'.

Jake's 'dream' is when he's "really" awake; his flight is freedom,

and if you think on it, a lot of his flight is with Neytiri.

Take ANIMAL FARM.  On one hand, you can look at it as merely a children's book with talking animals. 

On the other, it can be seen as a withering look at Communism:

"All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."

But you're just writing a romantic thriller -- why should you slow yourself down with inserting symbolism?

Ray Bradbury:
“I never consciously place symbolism in my writing. That would be a self-conscious exercise and self-consciousness is defeating to any creative act.

Better to let the subconscious do the work for you, and get out of the way. The best symbolism is always unsuspected and natural."

Ralph Ellison:
“Man is a symbol-making and –using animal. Language itself is a symbolic form of communication. The great writers all used symbols as a means of controlling the form of their fiction.

Some place it there subconsciously, discovered it and then developed it. Others started out consciously aware and in some instances shaped the fiction to the symbols.”

Ray Bradbury:
“Playing around with symbols, even as a critic, can be a kind of kiddish parlor game. A little of it goes a long way.

There are other things of greater value in any novel or story…humanity, character analysis, truth on other levels…

Good symbolism should be as natural as breathing…and as unobtrusive.”

Sandra, my best friend, points out I use symbols all the time without realizing it in my novels.

the stars often:

{As when flying atop a winged stallion to an almost certain death, Victor looks up to the moonless sky}

I like the stars. It's their illusion of forever, I think.

I mean, the light I'm seeing might be from a star that has millions of years ago gone nova or collapsed into a red dwarf.  But right then, it is as if it were still alive, still giving out light instead of being a burnt out cinder in the cold nether regions of space.

Stars are always flaring up and caving in and going out. But looking up into the night sky, I can pretend.  I can pretend that things last.

I can pretend that life lasts longer than just moments. Doubts come, and doubts go. But doubting stays constant.  Not so life.  Those I grow to love flicker and flourish, and then fade.

And that’s where another kind of pretending comes into play.  People we love do not die for us immediately, but remain cloaked in a sort of a pretend-life which bears no relationship to true immortality but through which they continue to walk through our thoughts in the same way as when they were alive. It is as though they were traveling in Europe or in the South Seas. {Sandra says I use the symbol of the slain Victor's soul echo in END OF DAYS to say much the same thing.}

Even worlds don't last.  And stars and galaxies are as grass, fleeting things that twinkle like fireflies and vanish into cold and floating star dust. But I can pretend.

Like I could pretend that I was going to make it out of this mess in one piece.  My face became flint.  I knew I was toast.  But I was sure as hell going to make it so that Alice and those others that I loved did survive this Twilight of the Gods.

Screw pretend.  I was sure of that one thing.  They were going to live.
So what do you think about symbolism?  Do you think of it at all as you write?  How about as your edit?


  1. I think some of it does creep in, but it's certainly not on purpose. If I analyzed, I'm sure I could find it a few places in my books.

  2. I love symbolism and how much it adds to a story. That said, I think Bradbury was correct in his feeling that the best symbolism is often written in unintentionally, or intuitively. Love the quotes you pulled to illustrate the post!