Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Art of Symbolism

His palms were already moist. The movie hadn’t even started yet and the hairs on the back of his neck were prickling. The intimate thumping in his chest had started again and his lips seemed to be extraordinarily dry and parched.

And the sixty-four thousand dollar question: what is this guy feeling? Is he A) pissed off; B) nervous; C) content; or D) smug. If you guessed B, then ding ding, YOU’VE WON!

The guy in question is obviously dealing with some anxiety worthy of the first date. How do we know? Because we’ve all been there before. We’ve all
experienced it, or at the very least, watched it on television.

The senses have always been the hardest to describe because everyone endures them differently. What does a lemon taste like? Sour. What does sour taste
like? Hmm, good question! We know from experience what it tastes like, and that’s all we’ve got going for us. So we have to improvise by describing.
Being surprised by something sour might make you pinch your face, or make your tongue feel prickly.

The art of implying and showing, rather than stating is called symbolism and started in the late eighteen hundreds onwards. It was called symbolism because they wanted to present the elements that it created, but not the symbol itself. Some of the most famous authors that truly grasped its meaning are Stéphane Mallarme (who wrote the symphonic poem to Debussy’s ‘Prelude to the Afternoon of a Fawn’) and Paul Verlaine, who were further influenced by Edgar Allan Poe.

Every once in a while, there will be those darn scenes that try to bail out on you, and try to go back to the easier way of stating things as they are. A simple trick is to list the senses and go through them one by one, imagining what it would be like, and not just assuming that the reader will get the same prickles of emotions when reading the facts. Facts aren’t nearly as fun to read.

All things considered, the more symbolic suggestions you make, the more your readers will relate to your situation. Anything to make the first date run smoother.

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