Monday, October 24, 2011


Back in college, I took a course in Romantic literature.  The focused on the six main romantic English poets from the late 1700's until about 1825 or so.  I don't remember why I took the course exactly except I don't think there were any writing courses being offered.  

It was in this course I was introduced to the poetry of William Blake.  For those unfamiliar with Blake's poetry let me say, that's unfortunate.  On the other hand, he is an acquired taste I think because much of his poetry revolves around the use of symbols, most so than other poets I think.

But I got the message and years later I have found symbols in my own work. For example, Evan Pierce, the main character in my first novel, as a priest, functions as the moral center of the story.  Later, in Book 3 Evan has been written out of the story and the moral center is far more vague.  I replaced Evan with Sir Ahlan, a knight from Evan's own order.  While Ahlan is a great character he has a harder edge and the moral center takes on a more Old Testament feel.

Using symbols in writing is just one of many techniques available to the writer.  But like a master chef cooking with a rare ingredient, you had best know what you are doing when you attempt to use a symbol or you'll ruin the story.  Heavy-handedness with symbols is like playing a delicate musical phrase blaring and loud.  

My recommendation is that you don't try to use symbols.  Let them come to you.  I never intended Evan to be the moral center of anything, but as I wrote my novels and got to know Evan, it suddenly occurred to me that he was a very honest and moral person; in fact, he was a good deal more ethnical than many others in his religious order.  That sudden shock of realization happened in while writing Book 2 as I was writing about several of the priests.  And when I realized that Evan was the more moral I used that knowledge in a subsequent revision of Book 1 to adjust Evan a little.  

My other recommendation is to re-read your own work and look for any symbols you might already be using.  Since the world is full of symbols, I'd be surprised if a few of them hadn't spilled over into your work.  But if you can't find any, don't worry.  They aren't required.  They're just a nice surprise when they are there.

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