For me, it's a combination of the above, but it's also that indefinable magic that suddenly makes symbols and images appear in the writing without my knowledge, the overarching, structural metaphors and symbols that bring disparate elements together and illuminate what the story is about. Often I don't have any idea where they come from. Sometimes they are purely conscious. Either way, they form the connective web between the images, themes, characters, and settings. They're the unifying force that gives life to the work, and the surprise and delight I find when they come together is a big part of what makes writing--and reading--fun.
As writers, we have a whole arsenal of tools we can use to deepen our writing and engage readers on additional levels. Among other things, we use:
- establishing or anchoring images to set a scene.
- closing images to underscore tone or heighten emotion.
- symbols to build a wordless emotional vocabulary.
- figurative language to simplify explanation at the sentence or paragraph level.
- recurring symbols or echoes to draw attention to a theme.
- recurring images to underscore turning points, build emotional intensity, point to what characters are feeling or thinking, or make a characters voice unique.
Symbols, imagery, and figurative language are usually simple to spot and identify, but there are so many different kinds it an be hard to remember that we have a much wider range of tools than we commonly use. Each type is unique, but each is an important piece in shaping our language, pages, scenes, chapters, and overall work.
- Establishing Shots: Usually discussed in reference to film or television, establishing shots work beautifully in written form to set up the context of a scene. In addition to providing the traditional elements of setting, they create the relationships between the characters and objects in the setting. You can build them through a quick, straight description at the beginning of your scene, but figuritive language or symbols can make them especially powerful. Think of every scene as a scene in a film, and provide an establishing shot for each.
- Anchoring Images: An image for your readers to visualize as they move through the scene. Judicious use of props and actions can link establishing shots and various anchor images within a scene to make it play out as visually as a film.
- Concluding Image: Underscores the emotional note of a scene and resonates with the reader longer. By using a powerful concluding image, you can say much less explicitly and achieve a greater payoff.
- Symbols: Derived from the Greek word for "throw together" symbols draw invisible comparisons to bring additional layers of meaning into your work. Angela Ackerman has a brilliant symbolism thesaurus on her blog, the bookshelf muse: http://thebookshelfmuse.blogspot.com/2010/02/new-symbolism-thesaurus.html.
- Similes: A type of figurative language that explicitely compares one things to another using the words 'like' or 'as.'
- Lips as red as roses
- Cheeks as white as snow
- Reeling her in like a fish on the line
- Simple Metaphors: At their most basic, metaphors use a handful of words to liken one thing to another without explicitly saying they are alike.
- The roses of her lips
- The snow of her cheeks
- Fishing for compliments
- Extended Metaphors: These begin with a simple metaphor and add additional elements.
- Her Snow White coloring, the rose of her lips, the snow of her cheeks
- A shadow of her former self, ghosting through the room with so little confidence she barely made a ripple
- All the world’s a stage and men and women merely players
- Let me count my loves of thee, my rose garden, my heart, my fixed mark, my beginning and my end
- Indirect Metaphors: These employ comparisons that are implied or less readily obvious because the actual comparison is veiled.
- Her smugness ruffled my feathers (made me bristle like a bird with ruffled feathers.)
- Surprise finally brought her back to earth (where she'd presumably been floating from euphoria or happiness)
- Submerged Metaphors: These imply meaning in the first portion of the comparison.
- Your eagle eye
- The spark of imagination
- The bloom of youth
- Dying and Dead Metaphors: A word of caution. Metaphors (or similes) that are used too often can become cliche. Most of the examples above fall into this category. If you've heard or seen a metaphor used before, consider very carefully before you use it in your own work.
- Active Metaphors: Instead of using a dying metaphor, think about creating something brand new. Consider what your specific character or narrator would say in his or her own voice. What life experience does he or she bring that she would use to illustrate a concept?
- Dormant Metaphors: In trying to create new metaphors, we sometimes forget that they have to work for the reader as well as the character. Make sure your metaphors are clear and well crafted enough to be easily understood.
- Conceptual Metaphors: These illustrate universal thoughts or concepts, and can often be easily extended. Life is a journey, for example, can be extended to show a person at a crossroads, carrying baggage, etc. Conceptual metaphors are a great way to provide start adding depth.
Do you already have conceptual figures in your manuscripts? Do you add them consciously, or do they just appear? What are your favorite examples from your own work?