Maximize psychological undertones and overtones in your writing to make a more powerful story!
Words are magic. Powerful magic. Often imbued with symbolic meaning— nuance, subtext, connotation, and feelings—deep within our collective consciousness. Meanings we respond to on a visceral level.
The roof overhead, the window your character gazes through, the threshold walked across—all these structural features can be used symbolically.
Here’s a few things to consider and questions that may help jump start your symbolic thinking. Remember, adding symbolic nuance to your writing can deepen your story, foreshadow, build upon character, hide or reveal conflict, or be a mirror for the character’s emotion.
- let in the light of knowledge/understanding
- allows character to view the outside world–which may or may not be a good thing
- Are the windows dirty or clean? And what might that represent?
- Are the drapes/ blinds closed or open?
- Stained glass—especially those with religious iconography—shout RELIGION. The observer sees the world through the dogma of their religion.
- divide between good and evil
- are a transition from one stage of life to another
- divide between one world and another
- locked doors suggest secrets and forbidden places/worlds/experiences
- divine or religious entrance into another state of being
- metaphysical time-space threshold
- Is it crumbled, ancient, modern, marred, or pristine?
- suggest strength
- divide people
- bar people
- provide privacy
- keep people out or others in
- Is there a hole in the wall? Is it stone, plaster? Can you hear through it? What’s on the walls?
- earthy realm
- suggest being grounded in reality
- flooring type may be symbolic
- Is it marble ( wealth ) or rustic wood ( humility )?
- Is it creaky, dirty, clean, shiny? Does a bug scuttle across? What’s on the floor that should not be there?
- provide shelter
- keep evil out
- The shape of the roof may be suggestive
- Domed roofs are emblematic of heaven
- Low roofs suggest restriction or being hemmed in by dogmas
- Vaulting roofs may be metaphor for high-mindedness or lofty ideals
- a transitional space
- the location before deciding which symbolic door you will enter
- Is it dimly light, bright, narrow, wide? Do footsteps echo?
- A character going up might suggest enlightenment and knowledge
- A character going down might suggest moral decline, or merely down into the depths of your understanding
- winding staircases suggest mystery–one can’t see straight ahead
- Are the stairs crooked, wide, slippery, worn?
- traditional domain of women
- are associated with maternal caretaking, be it with food, or spiritual and motherly nourishment
- It’s also the best place to get your hands on a knife
Living rooms/Drawing rooms
- The space where proper social behavior is expected
- location of one’s public persona
- where one’s true self appears
- synonymous with learning, knowledge, and education
- place of ancient wisdom or secrets
- repository of tucked away memories and secrets
- place of half-remembered or forgotten truths
- storage for relics of the family’s or ancestor’s past
- deepest darkest secrets
- underworld or lower realms
- creepy or base desires
So next time you write “she looked out the window” think of ways that simple window might reveal conflict, emotion or character.
Note: I’ve taught literary analysis for over 15 years. And nobody died of boredom….yet. I’ve also read and written my fair share of analytical papers about stuff that would bore the pants off anyone who wasn’t a literary professor.