I went out of town last Thursday, so I missed out on our regularly scheduled blog on Friday. I spent the weekend at a writer’s retreat with a bunch of my closest writer friends and we all had a wonderful time.
This is imperative, I’ve found: You need to spend time with other writers once in a while. It recharges your crazy-batteries so that you don’t slip-slide into the gray murk of normal life that will kill your fiction writing.
Kevin posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:
I’m a teen working on a complex novel idea. I haven’t written much as of yet (I have been working on plot development with the Snowflake Method, googling tips for writers, and getting critiques on a first chapter that I’ve been working on through other sources), but I am wondering what are your thoughts on symbolism. I am finding myself trying to cram symbolism everywhere, and am often acting very pick with word choice so that the symbolism isn’t wrecked. Am I simply overdoing it? I am afraid so, for it seems to me that symbolism is hardly noticed by readers today, mainly because I did not learn of its existence until this very school year.
Randy sez: Kevin, I think you’re the first teen who has e-mailed me this year who wasn’t obsessing on the question: “If I’m a teen writing fiction, will anyone take me seriously?” I don’t know quite why teen writers consider this the most important question. It isn’t. The first question editors or agents ask about any writer is this: “How well has this writer mastered the craft of fiction?” If the answer to that question is, “Extremely well,” then age doesn’t matter.
Really, I mean that. Age doesn’t matter. A teen writer with great craft, in fact, will probably have an advantage because that then becomes a selling point.
So congratulations, Kevin, on not asking what all the other teens are asking and for asking something that will advance your craft.
Now on to the actual question. I have three thoughts on the importance of symbolism in fiction writing:
Symbolism is like salt. Salt keeps the food from tasting bland. A little salt goes a long way. The “right” amount of salt is when you don’t notice that it’s there and you don’t notice that it’s missing. Too much salt will make you gag. Too little will make sure you never eat at that restaurant again.
Symbolism is like romance. If you obsess over making romance happen, you probably kill any chance that romance will develop. You cannot force romance. You cannot buy it (although you can buy something similar, which tragically turns out to be the exact opposite of romance). Romance happens when you weren’t looking for it. It grows when you just let it grow. Romance adds joy to life, but only when you aren’t trying to make it the only thing in life.
Symbolism is like humor. If you have to explain humor, it isn’t funny. If the humor is already there, you can tweak it to make it more powerful. If the humor isn’t there, no amount of trying will make it be there. With humor, 90% of the game is timing.
Kevin, it sounds like you may have “new toy syndrome.” This happens to all writers as they learn new elements of the craft and suddenly it seems like they’ve just got to use that new toy everywhere. Don’t sweat that. It happens. Keep working on your craft and pretty soon you’ll add yet another new toy to your collection, and then the symbolism will assume its rightful place in your arsenal. Then your only worry will be how to rein in the next new toy.
If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in public on this blog, hop on over to my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page and submit your question. I’ll answer them in the order they come in.