In her poem, “Sacred Emily,” Gertrude Stein wrote, “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.” This line is often interpreted as meaning things are what they are. In Stein’s view, the sentence expresses the fact that simply using the name of a thing already invokes the imagery and emotions associated with it.
In literature, objects can simply be what they are or they can symbolize something more than what they are.
A symbol is anything that hints at something else, usually something abstract, such as an idea or belief. A literary symbol is an object, a person, a situation, or an action that has a literal meaning in a story but suggests or represents other meanings.
If you want to learn more about crafting symbols in your story and how to use poetic techniques to deepen your prose, please join me this Thursday, April 21 for my writing webinar Sound and Symbol: How to Use Poetry to Deepen Your Prose, which is part of the Free Expressions Literary Series.
I’ll dive deep into how poetry can add sensory engagement to your prose.
We can have general symbols—like the aforementioned rose—and we can have specific symbols.
A general symbol is universal in its meaning. Even if the symbol was removed from a work of literature, it would still suggest a larger meaning, i.e. the rose symbolizes romantic love throughout time.
In my previous post introducing The Editing Games, I blogged about how I turned my most recent editing experience into a series of games to keep myself motivated.
Below are two more games I play to keep myself amused and on track. I hope you find them useful:
Game # 3: The Verb Game
After I’m done editing for story and characterization–when I think I’ve got the words in the right order on the page–I play the verb game. I take a chapter at a time (doing this while on the treadmill or elliptical machine is a great way to multi-task) and highlight each and every verb. Then I look at each highlighted word to see if there’s a better, stronger or more precise verb that I could use.
This game will do two things: 1) help make your story stronger and 2) train your brain for the future. If you really do this, you’ll be surprised at how your brain will begin to come up with stronger verbs the first time around.
Game # 4: The Repetition Game
I have a running outline of my chapters to keep track of certain things like plot, themes, character traits, and symbols or objects. If I’m repeating something for a reason–say a character trait like one character’s nervous goat laugh or an object like another character’s jet black toupee–I list this in my outline and make sure that I repeat this trait or object several times during the course of the story. I may even change the trait or object slightly to show growth of the character or a change of mood.
These repetitions can become threads to keep your story cohesive or lend resonance to your manuscript. Just remember: too many repetitions make the reader feel like they’re being harangued and too few repetitions will leave the reader in the dark. In my 300-page manuscript I typically repeat my threads a minimum of three times and usually more like five to six times as long as it doesn’t feel overdone.
What editing techniques or tricks do you use to keep yourself on target?
As a poet, I collect symbols. Because poems are usually shorter than novels, we have less space to get our meanings across, and a symbol can convey a mood or theme in a few words.
In a longer work like a novel, symbols can help deepen the plot, add to characterization, and expand themes.
But what exactly is a symbol? I like this definition from http://fictionwriting.about.com:
A symbol is a person, place, or thing that comes to represent an abstract idea or concept-it is anything that stands for something beyond itself. Read more