Writing Voodoo: Themes, Symbols and Metaphors

When we craft stories, essays or memoir, the “deeper” elements are the last thing on our minds. At least they should be. Concentrate on getting the story down, however rough around the edges. My opinion is that if you write the story deeply and honestly, the metaphors, themes, symbols (all that Voodoo subtext stuff!) will take care of themselves.
Writing Tip for Today: Why should writers even care about the “deep stuff?” Isn’t a story with lots of action enough? Here are some reasons for attending to subtext at the proper time:

  • Readers Crave Meaning. You can’t just write about your life or a character’s life without a point. Readers look for meaning, and if you don’t deliver your point, they’ll make one up. Kind of like the way the Beatles’ recordings have been played backwards by those convinced there were hidden messages. Your story, be it fiction or true, must pass the SO WHAT? test. Lives should change in stories.
  • Create Layers Upon Layers. In the Great Pacific Northwest, we’re used to dressing in layers. Readers too like to discover layers of meaning. Your story will be most satisfying if you provide metaphor, a solid theme and subtext that can be approached on different levels.
  • Start with Self-Education. The story often informs us as we write. What we thought was a great metaphor at the start now feels hackneyed or superficial. Completing a draft before you identify the subtext can help you see more possibilities. Instead of forcing them on the reader, let the symbols, metaphors or themes rise to the top like cream. You’ll have to practice in order to know how much thematic stuff beats the reader and how not to be so obscure that readers don’t get it. Start with whatever emerges and then mold it, shape it and you too can tame the Voodoo of themes, symbols and metaphors.

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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