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:~: Friday, August 25, 2006 :~:

The Hidden Link: Theme and Symbolism

One of the best things about starting school again is that I have new students (it's similar to the rush of having a new WIP to work on). Because I re-teach the basics of good writing every year, those first few days of school serve as a refresher course for me, too.

This week, my ninth graders have been focused on Stephen King's short story, "The Last Rung on the Ladder." Our essential questions have revolved around imagery, diction, symbolism and the link betweeen these literary elements and theme.

What does that have to do with this writing blog, you ask?

Well . . .

Breaking down these links for my fledgling high schoolers reinforces for me how we as authors use the shorthand of imagery and symbolism to guide our readers to our theme -- our universal statement, our intended message.

But I write commercial fiction, to entertain people. I don't need a theme, you say?

I bet you have one.

I used to think the same thing. I was writing a romance novel with a mystery intertwined. Sure, I used descriptive details, sensory words, and that created imagery.

But theme?

Then I learned a new way to write a short synopsis. It involved beginning with your premise.

And a premise is . . .

An author's universal statement about her subject.

Yep, a theme.

Lo and behold, I had a subject. Actually, I had several.

And when I started looking closer, I had themes on those subjects.

So in later manuscripts, I started playing with the concept of linking symbols to my themes. Sometimes, it was simple allusions -- one hero has a thing for Johnny Cash tunes, but the titles I mention within the manuscript underscore the theme and even the overall idea of the book. Another time, it was the hero and heroine's tattoos -- his standing in for the past he carries around with him, much as Hawthorne's Hester Prynne carries her scarlet A, hers representing the secret self she keeps away from the world and how she has been made stronger by her own past. The theme? Only by facing one's past can one find true healing.

Do you play with theme and symbolism in your work? If so, how do you link your images and symbols to your premise?


Blogger Theresa said...

You know it always takes me a while to figure out what my theme is. In the old book it was there is life (and happy life) after catastrophe. And that if you just hold on and fight the darkness-- light will eventually find you.

Or I think that's my theme.

I'm not sure completely what my theme is for the second book. I've got a sense of it, and that sense will probably develop more as the story progresses.

9:55 PM  

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