Friday, August 24, 2012

Reveal Your Story With Symbolism and Motif

Symbols and motif deepen writing
If you've heard it once, you've heard it countless times: Show; don't tell. Fiction writers usually accomplish this through dialogue and scene, conveying what's in their characters by what they say and how they respond to situations. This approach works well for characters, but what about theme and storyline?

One way to reveal the story and theme of a piece is through symbolism and motif. First, a few definitions: 
  • Theme: The writer's main concept, subject or topic (e.g., bad things happen to good people)
  • Symbolism: An action, idea or object that means more than what's on the surface (e.g., a doorway can signify change, death or birth)
  • Motif: A recurring element of symbolic significance (e.g., a door, doorway, foyer or entrance all possibly pointing to change)
Let's say, for example, that yours is the story of a child who's ill and may die. What words in this mini-scene convey more than their literal meaning?

Colin stood in the doorway of his son's hospital room, watching the small, sleeping form lying so still in the bed. The lights on the monitor blinked intermittently. Should he call the nurse again? he wondered. He hated to do it, but this was his only son.

Which words stand out as freighted with potential? Look at those in bold to see if you agree:

Colin stood in the doorway of his son's hospital room, watching the small, sleeping form lying so still in the bed. The lights on the monitor blinked intermittently. Should he call the nurse again? he wondered. He hated to do it, but this was his only son.

Depending on whether the boy in this story will live, here are other words and concepts to tinker with: Collin's name, the son's name, the name of the hospital and the nurse's name. The more specific the wording, the more likely the son will live. Using specificity in this way, that's what the writer indirectly conveys to the reader.

The best time to address symbolism and motif is in the second draft. These generally aren't techniques to impose on a work as you're creating it, but gems already in the piece that you polish to reflect the story once you know where it's going.

What are you working on that could benefit from wise use of motif and symbolism?

Happy writing!

For more tips, visi Word for Words, or visit Adele's blog.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Take It on Faith, Belief and Unbelief in Writing

Belief matters in writing
In writing and matters of faith, it's easy to go to one extreme or the other: be heavy handed, or avoid the subject. Yet, what characters believe about the workings of their daily lives is a reality, so why not consciously address this spiritual aspect? It's a great way layer their personalities and deepen your writing.

One way to explore the spiritual dimension of your characters is get at the "why" of their decisions. Each day, people make choices that range from whether to stay married to a cheating spouse to which way to walk to the pharmacy. The man married to the cheating spouse may stay with her because he believes divorce is wrong, or because she's the breadwinner. The elderly woman who walks to the corner pharmacy a different way each day may believe it's bad luck to use the same route twice in a row.

Of course, other factors such as finances, age and culture enter into decisions, but so does what characters believe and why they believe it. So take the advice of Japanese director Akira Kurosawa: "To be an artist means never to avert your eyes." Don't be afraid to go there.

Tip: Consider a story you're writing where the main character must make a major decision or a minor that will change the course of his or her life and the story. Explore the underlying reasons for his or her choice.

For more on spirituality and writing, visit Adele's Blog, and "A Writer's Unexpected Emotional Journey."

Happy writing!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Finding the Right Words to Improve Your Writing

The right words improve wour writing

Becoming a better writer is like moving to a new city. Acclimating yourself to an unfamiliar neighborhood takes time, but once you know the streets and landmarks, you find your way with greater ease.

One of the hardest things for me when I began freelancing was finding the right words. I wrote long, cumbersome sentences not because I was esoteric, but because I didn't know better. It took two years to feel comfortable enough with newspaper writing to venture into a more creative approach, and to find one precise word to do the work of a phrase.

If you're a comparatively new writer, or if you want to take your work up a notch, read and write well and widely. in all genres and styles, to all manner of length restrictions and deadlines. That includes poetry, which is richest in imagery and precision. But above all, write, write, write.

Here are helpful resources:
The Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual
The Careful Writer
The Chicago Manual of Style
The Elements of Style
Webster's New World College Dictionary
Words Into Type 

Happy writing!