What’s up y’all!? How’s everyone doing? How’s your writing going?
If you couldn’t already tell, I am SO excited! I’m SUPER pumped for this post. We’re going to be talking about SYMBOLISM in your novel. But first, I have a super, SUPER exciting announcement! (Okay Joy, it’s time to chill…)
But how can one chill when she has news like this?
Are you guys ready for the BIG announcement?
Wait for it… wait for it… *Hamilton starts playing in the distance
Okay, here it is!
The first draft of The Apostle’s Sister is FINISHED!!!
That’s right, y’all! The first draft of my novel is ACTUALLY FINISHED! My goal was to have it done by Christmas, but turns out it is completed with many days to spare. I am in CELEBRATION mode right now!
I’m actually a little sad the first draft is done, because in my opinion the first draft is the best part. It’s when you just write with no filter and no inner editor, and just tell yourself to make as big of a mess as you want because you’ll just fix it later. The second draft and every draft after is when things get serious. When you have to actually clean up that mess you made. (Ugh, does anyone else wish books edited themselves?)
Writing this first draft was just such an incredible journey – a very emotional one for me. Of course, it is messy, and there are TONS of things I will have to clean up in edits. But I’m happy, because I feel that for the first draft I managed to capture at least the heart of the story I was trying to tell. Oh, how much blood, sweat, and tears are in this first draft! (Well, my characters may have shed more blood, sweat, and tears than I did… LOL.)
The Apostle’s Sister turned out to be about 120K words. There will be some – well, a lot of – trimming and cutting to do, because I tended to use unnecessary words and even scenes and mini storylines in this first draft. But that’s okay, because a first draft is NEVER perfect! The important thing is getting the story written, not getting it perfect. I am not giving away the ending, so don’t ask, LOL. The only thing I will say is that the ending is very bittersweet.
Anyway, before we get on to our writing discussion for today, I wanted to share some stats from this first draft. I thought it would be interesting to see how many times I used God’s names and other words. I hope you guys think this is interesting, too! (And if you don’t, please be nice to this poor excited thing, haha.) So here are the stats:
God – 175 occurrences
Jesus – 157 occurrences
Christ – 135 occurrences
The Lord – 321 occurrences
Yahweh – 29 occurrences
Holy Spirit – 11 occurrences
Apostle – 64 occurrences
The apostle’s sister – 5 occurrences (I will be talking about these occurrences later in this post!)
Another thing I found interesting is that although Temira is the narrator, Paul’s name occurs oftener. I think it’s because Paul is the protagonist in this story – Temira is the eyes and voice through which his story is told. I believe making her the narrator was the best decision I made for the book, because Paul’s suffering story is even more poignant when told through the eyes of a loving sister. Here are their name stats:
Temira – 1228 occurrences
Paul – 1506 occurrences
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the peek at those stats!
Now it’s time to get into our writing discussion. I will be talking about symbolism in your novel, because while writing this first draft, I noticed that symbolism played a HUGE role. (Honestly, it wasn’t even on purpose, so I’m not sure why I think I’m qualified to give advice on how to use it, LOL.) But I thought it would be super fun to share what I’ve learned about symbolism! So let’s begin.
So, what is symbolism in your writing?
Symbolism is the use of symbols (duh, Joy) in a novel. These symbols are representatives of important themes, meanings, or ideas without stating them directly.
For example, in Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery, Anne’s red hair is symbolic of her fiery temper. This description of her physical appearance help to solidify an image of her personality in the minds of readers, and is part of what makes her such a memorable character.
Another example can be found in the flowers of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Miss Maudie, one of the kindest characters in the book and a mother figure to protagonist Scout, grows a garden filled with white camellias. The color of the flowers – white – and the beauty of the flowers overall is symbolic of Miss Maudie’s pure character. On the other hand, another character, Mrs. Dubose, also grows white camellias. However, Mrs. Dubose is completely different from Miss Maudie – she is old, sick, ugly, and incredibly racist. The fact that both characters grow these pure flowers is symbolic of one of the main themes in To Kill a Mockingbird – that there is a praiseworthy quality about everyone, even the worst people.
Symbols are important literary devices which you can find in any novel you’ve read. There’s a reason why so many authors employ them.
Why use symbols?
So, what is that reason? Why use symbols?
Symbols can be a very powerful way to impress an important theme or lesson on readers’ hearts without pounding it mercilessly into their heads. Trust me, that’s a MAJOR turn-off for readers! No one wants to be chased by an author holding a big banner and screaming, “THIS IS MY THEME! THIS IS MY THEME!” (LOL, that would be kind of funny…) But seriously, no one likes a preachy author. Symbols are very subtle, and so will impact readers much more than shouting your theme from the rooftops would be. And we all want to impact readers, right? That’s why we write.
If you haven’t got the hang of symbolism yet, no worries! Like all things in writing, it comes with practice. I hope my following tips will help you with your own WIP. If you want to get some ideas on how to use symbolism, keep reading! I will be sharing four suggestions, along with examples from The Apostle’s Sister.
1. Physical Appearance
A great way to employ symbolism is through your characters’ physical appearances.
In The Apostle’s Sister, Paul’s physical appearance is symbolic of the theme of suffering. He is scarred and crippled from his enemies’ relentless abuse (floggings, chains, beatings, etc.). This is symbolic of the outer weakness of not only Christ himself and the apostles, but the church as a whole. The church was poor. They were persecuted. They were spoken against all across the known world. The walking stick Paul uses is symbolic of Christ, who strengthens them. Without Christ, the church would struggle to walk, and would stumble and fall.
Paul’s physical appearance is mocked by his enemies; they use it to shame him. People scorn him and call him ugly because of his scars and his twisted body. Temira, on the other hand, sees Paul’s appearance as being exactly what makes him beloved to her. Instead of seeing the scars as marks of weakness, she sees them as marks of love, knowing that Paul has them because he is always bearing in his body the nail-marks of Christ’s crucifixion. Because Christ’s death was the ultimate act of love, Temira sees her brother’s scars and lameness as the ultimate mark of love. This is symbolic of the themes of love and sacrifice. Paul’s persistence in witnessing to his enemies despite acquiring more and more scars and a more painful body each time is symbolic of the kindness of his character.
See what you can do with a character’s physical appearance. Can you use it to show a trait of theirs? Can you use it to showcase a theme? Another advantage is that a memorable physical appearance will in turn make the character much more memorable!
2. Words and Phrases
Another great way to employ symbolism is through words and phrases.
A significant phrase in The Apostle’s Sister is, obviously, “the apostle’s sister.” I showed you earlier that there are 5 occurrences of the book’s title in the actual story. I noticed something very eye-opening about all 5 of these occurrences.
You see, every time this phrase occurs, it is used insultingly by another character. “The apostle’s sister” is to the world a term of mockery. Other characters use it to subtly sneer at Temira’s relation to Paul, and her decision to follow him in his life of suffering instead of rejecting him for the comforts of the world. To the world, being the apostle’s sister is a shameful thing. It means you receive disgrace, suffering, and abuse. It means you are the sister of a madman.
However, to Temira, being called the apostle’s sister is her greatest honor. This shows how different her character is from the character of Paul’s enemies. She sees it as an honor to share in his life of suffering, which shows not only her sacrificial love for him, but her sacrificial love for God. This restates the big theme of The Apostle’s Sister in a very subtle way, yet it is there.
So are there any significant words or phrases (perhaps your book’s title, as in my example) in your novel? If so, can you use them to subtly point your reader to your theme? Can you use it to showcase part of a person’s character?
3. Characters Themselves
Characters themselves can also serve as great symbols for your book.
The example that comes to mind is my character Seth. Temira adopts Seth, a sickly little boy abandoned by his mother, and takes him to be her own. Seth is not, in the way the world would see it, Temira and Paul’s own flesh and blood. Temira is not his biological mother, and Paul is not his biological uncle. Yet they both love him as deeply as they love Reuben, who is their biological son and nephew.
Temira and Paul’s relationship with Seth is one of the most touching parts of the story. It is so clearly symbolic, yet not preachy. It shows that no matter where someone comes from, they are our true family because of the love of Christ. Temira and Paul didn’t care where Seth came from. They saw him as their own son.
When first introduced, Seth is a very weak and vulnerable character. However, he is quickly strengthened by the care of his new parents, which is symbolic of overcoming suffering through love. Throughout the novel, Seth develops one of the most prominent and independent personalities. This is because instead of treating him as nothing but a sign of weakness and abandonment, Temira and Paul treated him as a son with equal importance to Reuben.
Is there a character you could create to be a powerful symbol? Personally, this is one of my favorite routes to go, and an easy way to avoid preachy!
This is my final suggestion for you. Items, such as in the case of Miss Maudie’s and Mrs. Dubose’s camellias, can be great symbols.
In one of the final chapters of The Apostle’s Sister, Temira notices that her son Seth is growing rapidly, and his clothes no longer fit him. So she makes over one of his Uncle Paul’s old robes for him. When she presents it to Seth, mother and son both get emotional. Now, from an outsider’s perspective, that would look somewhat strange. Why would you get emotional over an old, faded robe? Temira obviously made it over because the family of an apostle is too poor to afford good clothes. They have to rely on hand-me-downs.
But the robe, simple and poor as it is, is a gift to Seth. He wears it proudly because it belonged to the uncle he is devoted to.
The robe is symbolic of the themes of love, sacrifice, and suffering. Although Paul’s family can’t even afford simple necessities, it doesn’t matter, because they have the love of Christ for each other. A child doesn’t need material things – he needs love. Seth’s appreciation of this realization is symbolic of how, even as a little boy, he has made big sacrifices of his own for the Lord.
Is there an item you can use to subtly point the reader to your theme? You can use this to create a touching moment that will stay with readers. The simple moments are what count. Your book is made up of them. If you don’t aim to move your reader with each moment, you won’t move them at all. This simple method is both easy and sweet!
So, that’s it!
I hope these tips were helpful! Of course, there are many more ways to employ symbols, but those are four main suggestions to get your creative wheels turning if you’re stuck. LOL, I never realized The Apostle’s Sister was so full of symbolism. I did that without knowing I did it!
Have a great Friday, guys! I know there were a lot of posts this week – I wanted to start off strong getting this blog off the ground. I promise not to bombard you guys like this again! Next week there will be posts on Tuesday and Thursday, so make sure to check back!
Let’s chat! Have you used any symbolism in your novels? If so, let me hear your ideas! I LOVE learning from your wisdom, and all your WIPs blow me away! Definitely talk with me in the comments.
You know the drill – eat, pray, write, repeat!