Symbolism; Another Backdoor

Adding any kind of symbol in our lives is like giving ourselves a life line, isn't it? From ball caps to support our teams, to dainty pendants. Each one can tell a story, each one can hold a memory that's just for us.

Lately, symbols are everywhere in my life, in my writing, in other people's writing. I can't escape them, and quite frankly, I'm finding it interesting to study them. Especially how they work and play on emotions. Anyway, maybe I was just blind to them before and suddenly I have new eyes.

Being nudged by a good symbol is like seeing the Grim Reaper. It triggers a gut reaction that we can't control. 

So what I've discovered is that if we use symbols properly in our writing it saves us time and heightens tension at key points. Our readers discover emotions we want them to experience without us having to retrace our steps. Don't you just love short cuts? A backdoor like this is magical.

Here is one easy way that works for me:
1) Introduce the symbol in a casual way or in a way the reader can't forget;

Didn't he know that was a woman's pendant he was wearing?
2) An emotional explanation of the symbol so we feel something when we see it again;

"How did you two track me?" he demanded.
My brother smiled and pointed to the pendant peeking out from his shirt.
"Damn it. You used the one thing you knew I'd never give up unless I was dead? Who had the gonads to whisper to my mother's necklace?" He glanced at me and I snuggled up against his warm chest, fondling the pendant.
"Of course it was me. I need a way to find you. You should be thankful my magical whispers worked. We just saved you."
"No. What you did was put yourself in the line of fire and I won't risk your lives. This is my fight." 
3) Bring the symbol back when it becomes important, yet you don't have time to explain why;

"I'll find him. One whisper and I'll have a location."
"Not this time." My brother tossed me the necklace he'd been clutching. My heart sank when I saw the familiar pendant.
4) Closure. Leave the reader with a sense of satisfaction or another emotion if you roll that way;

I was alone. There was no one around for miles. The pendant sank slowly at first, melting into the current, and then it snuggled into the mud for eternity.  

Another easy way, is to use symbols that the reader can identify with. These need no introduction and should be so subtle the reader doesn't even know you just used symbols to get your way. Actually as the writer, I sometimes don't even know I'm doing this. But! Now that I'm paying attention to symbols I found some fun examples where a writer can play on our emotions by simply referring to something we find emotionally symbolic.

Here are a couple examples of what I've read or done that jumped out at me;
  • The break up scene in Zanzibar Dream by Tori Knightwood; he's about to make a clean start and she says he smells like hotel soap. I just love that! I really felt like he was ready to move on. It was closure for me at a point where I really needed it. It took me awhile to figure out what the writer had done and how she'd created this magic. Soap. So simple.
  • In my own writing I found that I make my guys smell earthy when I want them to come off fatherly. Doesn't a guy who smells like leaves or pine trees just give you a warm sense of who he is? Of course I do the same for the women. They smell like lilacs or fresh bread, one tasted like apples when he kissed her. Then again, the bad guy had onion breath! lol
  • I even brought in a butterfly to sit on a dark character to prove there was good in him to the reader. It was like flashing a sign of hope before them.

There are so many examples but these are a few I saw this week. Now that I'm looking I'm seeing them everywhere and the magic and power behind choosing just the right symbol is incredible. Of course, I also see many lost opportunities. Why mention a letter and not bring it up again later as a symbol?

How have symbols invaded your life? Any other tips on how to use symbols properly in our writing? Have you read or noticed any symbols that have stuck with you? Please share them.

Oh... Here are a few other links about symbolism in writing, of course they take a somewhat different approach then I do;

Have fun writing today!
and Nicola Marsh is hosting a cool contest.


E.J. Wesley said...

Great write-up, Tanya! Really awesome info.


Autumn Shelley said...

Ooooohhh, of course I love symbolism, how'd you know????
Symbols, totems, anything that represents 'something else' is always powerful!
Spoken language was powerful, but written language was MAGIC! There was power in words or symbols. There were times that not everyone was schooled in the written language. It was reserved for priests, shamans or people of power and knowledge. The written word was revered, instead of taken for granted.
Today, we are still mystified and intrigued by the paintings left to us on cave walls in France, rock carvings in the desert southwest and glyphs on pyramids throughout the world. C'mon, who can't say the DaVinci code put them on a whole new path of learning about symbols and how they have been used since the beginning of time?
Yep, I'm a fan (obviously) and I believe that your attentiveness to symbols will only make you more astute and aware of our interesting world! Fabulous post!

Vicki Tremper said...

I loved that last example of the pendant, when it sinks away - beautiful.

Donald Maass talks about symbols in his Writing the Breakout Novel. You're in good company.

Tori Knightwood said...

Tanya, thanks so much for using my book as an example! Great post! I love writing symbols.


Tanya Reimer said...

Thanks EJ!

What wonderful examples Autumn! Symbols can be used in so many ways.

Oh yes, Vicki I loved his ideas and put them to work for me in I WHISPER ALONE.

Hey Tori, love your book! Thanks for stopping by and for providing us with a wonderful example of symbols at work! Soap. Genius, really.

Richard said...

Good post. It's something I never think about. I'll have to become more aware.

Peggy Eddleman said...

Ooo! I love symbolism! This was a really great post. Are your examples from your WIP? So interesting! I loved them!

Tanya Reimer said...

I know eh, Richard. It really changes how we look at things.

Yes Peggy, from a few of my WIPs actually. The man who smells like leaves is from FINDING BALANCE, the woman who tastes like apples is from SURVIVING THE STORM but the onion breath bad guy was from DYING TO LIVE. The butterfly is from the HUNT FOR JULIA. The pendant example I made up.

Valentina Hepburn said...

Fantastic post, Tanya. I think we can find symbols in everything and it's really exciting to invent your own. In centuries past, symbols have meant so much to us in terms of religion, wars and love. The simple red cross is a powerful one and we all know what it means. And I love it that your goodies get the lovely aromas and the baddies, the nasty ones. Quite right too!

Margo Berendsen said...

Oh, this is so cool! Makes me eager to explore symbols - you gave some really good examples. I've noticed some books use symbols particularly well but I never sat down to analyze just how they did it.

I'm tweeting this.

Juliana L. Brandt said...

This is great! It's funny because it's something I do unconsciously but should probably try to do more.

The Warm Fuzzies Blogfest is coming up, if you're interested :)

Juliana L. Brandt said...

Hey Tanya :) I just got your comment on my blog. I guess the link was a little embeded and hard to find in the post, oops!

Here it is though:

Juliana L. Brandt said...

Lolol! That cracked me up! I was wondering why you couldn't find the link. I knew you couldn't have missed it ;)

I'll send out the link to the website when it officially launches in a week in a half. I can't wait for you all to see it!

Good luck with all of your business. I totally understand! There's something about this time of the year when everything gets crammed :)