So Symbolism Happens On Purpose?!

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"Along about now you should be asking a question, something like this: you keep saying that the writer is alluding to this obscure work and using that symbol or following some pattern or other that I never heard of, but does he really intend to do that?  Can anyone really have all that going on in his head at one time?" (Foster 82).

Foster goes on to answer "yes" and then says that nobody can be certain but he emphasizes the point that authors write with intention and purpose.  I agree, writers put symbols and allegories in stories for a reason, but is it always purely intentional?  I don't think so.

Most writers just start writing without any real idea of where they are going.  They may think they are going to write a story about a high school romance and end up writing about a horror story set in an old castle.  If they are just starting to figure their thoughts out, how much attention are they going to pay to symbols?  Now, after they've written a few drafts, they will pay more attention to those details, but even then, not everything they write is intended to be a symbol.  I just came to this realization myself with my own short story.

In my story, the protagonist has asthma and is particularly sensitive to smoke.  What does that mean?  Nothing really.  She just coughs a lot when there is smoke around.  But then after writing my rough draft and I went back to revise, I realized something.  Air is a constant presence in my story and it is actually a...SYMBOL!  Yes, I discovered a symbol in my own story that I did not even know was there.  AND I WROTE IT!  Air symbolized the oppression of the nationalist party that was controlling Spain at the time of the Spanish Civil War.  In both scenes where my protagonist has confrontations with this party, she finds it very hard to breathe. 

WHOA.  Not all symbols are intentional.  I am now more conscious of that aspect of my story and I refuse to cut any scenes where the smoke is present because I now like the symbolism behind it.  Is not cutting the scenes intentional?  Yes.  But the symbol was not.


"Most writers just start writing without any real idea of where they are going."

I suppose it really depends on what you mean by "start writing."

There is certainly a period of writing that involves throwing a bunch of ideas around and seeing what works, but the real work of being a writer -- the part that requires discipline and concentration and experience and lots of time -- really begins in earnest when you start noticing something that's worth refining.

So yes, brainstorming and "discovery drafting" (and what Dr. Patterson calls the "zero draft") is a huge part of the writing process. But giving symbolic weight to a detail is something you can't really do until you have some idea of the shape of your whole work.

There are some writers who claim they wake up in the middle of the night with their stories crystal clear; or they hear the voices of their characters calling them over to the keyboard, begging to know what happens next in their lives. So who knows where inspiration will really strike us.

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