I don’t know if it’s done much in modern novels or whether my absence of noticing the existence is due to the fact I read more modern YA than modern adult books, but I’ve always loved the idea of symbolism in novels. Ever since we were forced (I’d like to say at gunpoint, just to be dramatic, but luckily the school-system is much kinder than one expects!) to read and over-analyse and stress during exam conditions about William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, I’d found an interest in unravelling the things which an author has (or has not, in some cases!) hidden.
I questioned the existence of those sorts of thematic ideas in modern literature because it may be clearer in the classical, ‘famous’ books. In A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens especially winds in a lot of subtle references (and I thought writers weren’t meant to do that!) to books he had read about the revolution, be they true or not.
What do you think? Is there are chance that symbolism is more ignored nowadays in literature than before? Sometimes I think that authors are just writing (not that there is anything wrong with that) and not paying as much attention as they should to the symbolism of their novel. You see, as writing has become more popular and more accessible, it has also become more commercial – more popular for the money.
(This is an unfair generalisation, but there are some people who write to see their name in stars.)
Since Golding, I myself wanted to incorporate hidden ideas within my own plots. For some genres, this is easier than others. For instance, as you know, I am a murder mystery writer at heart – and this genre happens to involve a lot of winding together different elements and throwing in the ol’ red herring or two along the way (favourites of mine indeed)!
However, incorporating subtexts goes deeper than that. True, there must be something secretive hidden from the reader, but in the end, often the author reveals all of the missing details. By subtext, I mean something which is not crucial to plot, something never revealed officially unless the reader goes searching and analysing. And the want for analysis is key.
I guess we could blame the poetry. It’s poetic habit to unleash the inner metaphor and rage about topic in a subtle, nondescript way.
As for specifics, the range is quite large. Golding used objects as his starting point: glasses for fire, conch shell for order; other authors use themes themselves in language or tone or metaphor. One author might deploy a character for the basis of a different theme. I quite like a mixture of all.
Going back to the point of poetry: I’ve noticed that love-poetry (well, classical love-poetry) often has a recipient described and often there is a feature the focus of beauty. For some poets, it is hair, for others eyes. You get the idea. In the same way, I see subtexts as necessarily having a certain focus. This could just as easily be throwing in a continuous metaphor of women as flowers or as birds as it could be with saying that the character happens to notice more of one sense than another.
The one that’s great about theme is that the starting point is really flexible, and from it, writers can go in whatever direction they wish.
And as for me? Well, that would be telling of my secret imagery. I do have a list of objects that stand for certain things, and themes that I have attempted during the prose, but I wouldn’t explain it to anyone without my readers picking up or guessing it first.
In the previous post, I did mention that one of my favourite parts of writing lyrics was the creation of a story in between the lines or of the subtext and the subtlety behind the song. This, however, is an entirely different matter, and I might share my story in another blog post.