Sunday, January 31, 2010

This Week's Practice Exercise

Symbolism (Version 4)

Prepared by: Pat Johnson
Revised, reposted on: January 31, 2010

EXERCISE: In 400 words or less, write a scene in which a symbol is central to the story. Try to find a symbol that has not been overused, e.g., national flags, the Cross, devoted pets, broken arrows, etc.
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Writers often use an object, place, person, animal, or even an historical idea to represent an ideal, an emotion(such as fear or desire), a relationship, a character's goal or hope, a conflict or even a whole society. The symbol helps to focus our attention on the most important message carried by the narrative.

We've all seen stories where a river has suggested the onward movement of life, or symbolized a path leading to or away from some situation. Rivers have stood for destructive, implacable forces of nature, givers or takers of life. Traditionally, a rose might symbolize a woman's purity or someone's desire for perfection. Bridges often symbolize connection and communication, but a bridge not crossed might represent dashed hopes or a failure to connect. A house passed down through generations might come to symbolize the family - is it kept with pride, or is the paint peeling? What would that suggest about the family?

If the symbol is too abstract, the reader won't understand and would miss an important aspect of the story you're trying to tell. However, if a symbol is used in an obvious way, it loses its magic and hits the reader unpleasantly right between the eyes. Let the reader glimpse or hear about the symbolic object, then in the story refer to it obliquely. If you do this well, your reader will get it, perhaps without even knowing why.
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EXERCISE: In 400 words or less, write a scene in which a symbol is central to the story. Try to find a symbol that has not been overused, e.g., national flags, the Cross, devoted pets, broken arrows, etc.
______________________

CRITIQUING: Identify the symbol and tell why you think the author uses it and/or whether it works. Is the author heavy-handed or subtle with the symbol? Will most readers understand the symbol? Does it add to or detract from the story and characters? Keep in mind that although it could be interpreted differently by different readers, it is the author's successful use of the symbol for a particular purpose, deepening our understanding of a character's motivation or broadening the scope of the plot, that makes it enrich the story.



These exercises were written by IWW members and administrators to provide structured practice opportunities for its members. You are welcome to use them for practice as well. Please mention that you found them at the Internet Writing Workshop.

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