Symbolically Speaking

“Symbols arise from the instant and continuous deterioration of sensation in the memory since first experience.”

 –  in Henry’s notebooks from Perfection by Julie Metz

God, I hope this isn’t true in relation to writing.  In creating symbols and their –isms, does each time I hit that note weaken the power of the initial memory or feeling it elicits?

Writers use symbols to illustrate themes, ideas, emotions.  Illustrate is a key word here.  ‘Show, don’t tell’ is a mantra that haunts us all in our sleep.  We cannot describe said feeling without talking down to or boring our reader.  But if we can hit them where it hurts, draw out that venom from a similar hurt they’ve experienced, yes, that is what makes writing powerful and universal.

Raindrops, an unexpected phone call or delivery, a plump bud about to burst, a family business with one remaining heir.

But where do we cross the line between evocative and cliché?

A repetition, a refrain, an oral tradition, cautionary tales – there are threads that weave us all together in the collective consciousness of all time.  There are reasons for patterns.

But if we bang that drum one too many times, do we risk ‘the instant and continuous deterioration’ Metz mentions above?

Or is it not what we do, but the way that we do it?

The goal is to fine-tune our words, choose them like each brushstroke of a painting.  If we create a unique experience in each scene, regardless of its resemblance to an aura that once surrounded our readers, we will gain connection, a relativity with a resounding freshness.

It’s no small task.  But there’s also pretty good research backing us up.  There’s a reason symbols resonate throughout the millennia.  Through story, there is some thread of our DNA.  Whether it’s deteriorated throughout the years, some small part of it remains and vibrates within us when we read it.

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