1. ecanusia16
    Offline

    ecanusia16 Member

    Joined:
    Feb 22, 2008
    Messages:
    24
    Likes Received:
    0

    Symbolism: How important is it?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by ecanusia16, Sep 24, 2008.

    When and where is symbolism appropriate in a plot? Should there always be a "hidden meaning" in character names, the twists, the events. (i.e. MC slaying of the huge eight-legged spider-ish monster symbolizes the unnatural psychological need to be loved by your mom and strike meaning to your contemporaries... blah)

    It might sound a bit detail-obssessive, but how important is symbolism in a piece of work? Is it true that details mean everything?
     
  2. Little Miss Edi
    Offline

    Little Miss Edi Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jul 17, 2008
    Messages:
    214
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    South East, England
    I think you choose how important symbolism is. You can include it while accepting that some people might not actually get it or you can leave it out and someone will still read something into your work.

    If you want to include it, go for it. If not and it bores you, leave it out. The choice really is yours. You never know, you might find on a re-read that you were putting it in anyway unconsciously.

    (nice avatar btw - Love The Sandman!! :p)
     
  3. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    I think the best symbolism is that which creeps in without you consciously intending it. Deliberate symbolism, unless you are a master of the craft, tends to be either heavy handed, or confusing because the writer is not clear enough, or just off target. But we all have influences in our lives, so symbolism tends to insert itself without even planning it.

    However, poetry is a differnet story. I believe that good poetry is all about constructing clear and dimensional symbolism - metaphors, similes, and dual meanings. It is what provides depth to the brevity of words.
     
  4. Scattercat
    Offline

    Scattercat Active Member

    Joined:
    Aug 28, 2008
    Messages:
    442
    Likes Received:
    9
    Location:
    Under there.
    Good points made so far. I'd reiterate that

    1) Symbolism is as necessary as you want it to be; if you don't like it, don't use it. If you love it, go nuts.

    2) The best symbolism grows organically, as aspects of the character become reflected in the world you craft around him/her.

    I'd just also add that if you are absolutely mad for symbolism and desperately want to craft something perceived as "deep" and "meaningful," you can always sprinkle in a few simple, powerful images and let your readers wrangle over exactly what the story "meant." This works a lot better in the modern age of postmodern criticism, since everyone gets to create their own interpretation now anyway.

    Attempting to write a story in which "X symbolizes Y" is not going to work very well. Firstly, because modern literary criticism more or less wholeheartedly rejects the idea that the author gets to have any say in what his/her work "means," and also because the wide disparity of experiences and mental associations means that something which symbolizes death or despair to you might well be a very positive thing to someone else.
     
  5. tehuti88
    Offline

    tehuti88 Contributing Member

    Joined:
    May 13, 2008
    Messages:
    642
    Likes Received:
    6
    Location:
    Michigan
    Symbolism is highly important in my work, considering that a lot of it is Jungian themed. But not everybody uses symbolism, nor should they. Some people are just horrible at it and make it beat-you-over-the-head obvious, which kind of negates the purpose. The best symbolism is that which is open to interpretation. I cover Jungian ideas in my work, but I never explain the theories behind them. I never sit here and say, "This is the theory of the Shadow and this is what it means in my story." I'm betting most of my readers don't even know who Jung is and probably wouldn't understand most of his stuff. Hence my symbolism is probably lost on them. But it's there, for anyone who knows enough to find it, and even if they don't, somebody else could come up with their own meanings. That's the point, after all--walking away from a story with your own idea of what it means, even if the author didn't mean anything. It makes the story resonate with you more personally. If I were to explain all my symbols they wouldn't have any personal meaning to anyone anymore. They would be MY symbols only, nobody else's.

    Sometimes symbolism is great, but it should not be used all the time, and it DEFINITELY should not be used for everything. Symbolism is supposed to be subtle. When it's overused, it loses all meaning. Sometimes a spider is just a spider.

    Truthfully, I originally never set out to write a Jungian-themed story. I was already working on a story while I started learning about his ideas, and as they resonated with me, they made their way into my work. Now I barely even try to include such symbolism; it just belongs there.
     
  6. Wreybies
    Offline

    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 1, 2008
    Messages:
    18,841
    Likes Received:
    10,017
    Location:
    Puerto Rico
    Very well put.

    Heavy handed and/or over-used symbolism is distracting for me. It commits the gravest of literary sins: It pulls me out of the story.

    It takes me out of what has been created, sits me down next to the writer and all I can hear is, "Look! Look at all the hidden meaning I have written into my fabulous tapestry of words. Observe how infinitely profound I am."

    For me, it's kinda' like makeup. Don't they say the best makeup is the makeup you don't notice. :rolleyes:
     
  7. TheAdlerian
    Offline

    TheAdlerian Senior Member

    Joined:
    Sep 3, 2008
    Messages:
    115
    Likes Received:
    2
    I like the comment about symbolism creeping in. As long as a human is doing the writing, that has to happen. Any story of length is going to reflect who you are and what you value.

    Most of my story ideas have some kind of purposeful philosophical argument though. That keeps me on target and helps to supply motivation to the characters. However, I've read, and look forward to, plenty of books which are action oriented and pure fun.

    I especially enjoy that when stressed out.
     
  8. AnonyMouse
    Offline

    AnonyMouse Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 3, 2008
    Messages:
    2,225
    Likes Received:
    337
    Location:
    Atlanta, GA
    If your characters, locations, or scenes represent something greater, it will show through on its own.
    Don't blur the story itself just so you can bring the bigger picture into focus.
     
  9. Etan Isar
    Offline

    Etan Isar Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 4, 2007
    Messages:
    1,183
    Likes Received:
    32
    Symbolism in any genre is has as much importance as you assign it. If you wan to let all the symbolism be accidental(which often equates to over-analyzed), that's fine. If you want it to be intentional, make sure you understand the system you plan to use, and that it is at least self-consistent. it should also be apporpiate to your conflict and characters. After all, symbolism is often very personal, and if it clashes with the most personal parts of the story, it won't fit very well in the eyes of the reader.
     
  10. Rei
    Offline

    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 2, 2008
    Messages:
    7,869
    Likes Received:
    32
    Location:
    Kingston
    I'm with Cogito on this. The best symbolism is unintentional. So are morals. I met a writer once who believed that if you write your story well, things like symbols and morals will fall into place. It's amazing how much symbolism we can find in books, but I do wonder how often the writer saw what English teachers see. I saw an interview ith Alfred Hitchock's granddaughter who took a film class in university. In the class, they studied some of Hitchcock's movie. When she asked him about some of the stuff that her profs were saying, he was amazed that they saw so many things he didn't know about.
     
  11. Last1Left
    Offline

    Last1Left Active Member

    Joined:
    Jul 7, 2008
    Messages:
    127
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    You know that box next to the Wendy's?
    Whether you utilize symbolism or not, I think some readers are always going to find some in your work. That being said, you might as well make it a strong point of your story.
     
  12. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    only as important as you want to make it and can present it well enough to work...

    too broad a statement to answer intelligently, as is... generally speaking, details are often important and sometimes are not... depends on what kinds of details you're referring to and in what context... in re manned space travel, i'd say they're much more important than in re planning a birthday party, for instance...
     
  13. architectus
    Offline

    architectus Banned

    Joined:
    Aug 19, 2008
    Messages:
    1,796
    Likes Received:
    14
    Location:
    Ca
    I imagine a lot of things we read into novels might not have been put there on purpose.

    For example, I was thinking about the Fremen in Dune. Fremen sounds like free men, and they were free from society. They were free from the love of spice and the control of it. They were free men in many ways.

    I have no idea if Herbert did that on purpose or not.

    One other thought. I believe I can read symbolism into any novel I pick up, even if it was not meant to be there.
     

Share This Page