Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Symbolism in Fiction--Part 1

(Article from the just released May issue of Christian Fiction Online Magazine.)

Symbolism is often a vague, esoteric aspect of fiction. We novelists hear about it, but we can’t quite define it, much less know how to use it. So let’s talk a bit about what symbolism is, how we can study its use in others’ works, and how we might apply it to our own novels.

By the way, symbolism may also be called “imagery” or a story’s “image system.”

A simple working definition of symbolism in fiction could be: the subtle and recurring use of places, things, or events to convey a subliminal message that deepens and enhances the story’s action and message.

Let’s break this definition into sections:

(A) The subtle and recurring use. Symbolism should be used repeatedly throughout the story but not in a heavy-handed way. The average reader isn’t supposed to say, “Ah, here’s a piece of symbolism.” Whatever is used in a symbolic manner should seem very natural to the story. In fact, if symbolism begins to stick out, it loses its purpose, for only in subtlety can it be effective. A good analogy would be the playing of background music in a fine restaurant. The music adds ambiance, but it’s low enough that diners can enjoy the food and conversation without paying conscious attention to it...

Read the rest of this article in my column, Making a Scene.

Winner of Photo Friday: "Bill" with this caption: "Mom, turn your head. I think we're picking up Moscow."

Congrats, Bill!. E-mail me with your street address and choice of one of my novels. brandilyn (at) brandilyncollins (dot) com.


Unknown said...

Good discussion Brandylin. But I would have to disagree that imagery and symbolism are synonyms. A story's imagery is totally organic to the story and serves the story only and is only recognizable within the context of the narrative, while symbolism goes beyond the story and is recognizable outside the story. This is why cliches like flags standing for patriotism work--it's universally recognizable.

Melanie said...

I enjoy, after finishing a book, going back and looking for pieces of symbolism. They definitely add depth to any story.

Sheila Deeth said...

A story's imagery can become its symbolism can't it. Universal symbols can become cliches, but internal symbols can have a powerful effect on the reader. Neat article. Thanks.

Grady Houger said...

Good job Brandilyn.