Monday, April 25, 2011

Symbolism

I’ve been looking over my scores in the Genesis contest. One of the judges gave me a two (out of five) on this: Do inspirational elements grow organically out of character or plot? Another one gave me a three.

This surprised me. In the section I submitted, the main character discovers a place called Cedar Spring after she has had a difficult day. At the beginning of the section, I use this verse: The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree: he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Psalm 92:12

Do I have to explain the symbolism of cedar? That it was used in the building of the temple? That it was added to the burnt sacrifices? That it was used to build the Ark of the Covenant?

That it is used to symbolize Jesus.

And, of course, the clear flowing spring that brings her a feeling of peace. Surely that doesn’t need explanation?

Do the “inspirational” or “religious” elements have to be blatant in “Christian” books?

This is a YA novel, and, given the lack of Bible knowledge even among professed Christians, should I cut the symbolism?

Perhaps I need to give some type of explanation as to why this particular chapter is placed at this particular point in the book.

To me, of course, this was an inspirational element that grew from the main character’s need to find peace after two unsettling events.

Symbolism is used to add an extra depth to the words we write. But, if no one “gets it,” why even use it?

Then again, maybe one day, fifty years from now, a literature teacher will be discussing my book. She will ask her students, “What is the symbolism of the cedar tree?”

Nah, that won’t happen. Not unless it’s a Christian school.

(By the way, I know the cedar trees we have in the United States are not the same cedars mentioned in the Bible. Yet both have similar qualities. For instance, they both repel insects and both are often used in construction.)

Christians often lament the lack of “good” Christian literature being published today. And I am not saying my manuscript is better than that being published.

However, I believe “in your face” Christian elements should not be the first thing Christian judges, publishers, or agents look for in a manuscript.

On the other hand, it is certainly possible the judges knew exactly what I was aiming for when I wrote this chapter. They just didn’t believe it worked and thought it bogged down the action.

This has made me rethink the way I wrote this story.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be rethinking it and trust in the readers to “get” it, or, if they don’t get it, trust the power of the story to be enough for them to enjoy the read.

To symbolize or not to symbolize—that is the question.

Or perhaps the question is—what’s the correct way to symbolize?

Do you ever use symbolism in the stories you write?

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2 comments:

  1. Symbolism seems to be out of vogue. I'm not sure if it is even appropriate in a children's book. What age is this book for?

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  2. I don't see symbolism ever going out of vogue. The Bible is filled with symbolism, and, as Christian writers, I believe we should use the Bible as our standard of good writing. The book is for ages 10-13.

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