Friday, March 31, 2017

How to Turn Average Fiction into Outstanding Writing by Jacqueline Seewald

Quality fiction requires a theme or idea that unites the work. Ideally, the theme will connect setting, plot and characters in a significant way. It’s easier to do than you might think.

Appeals to the five senses can make short stories and novels memorable. This isn’t a device that only poets should be using. With simile, the writer compares an abstract concept with something concrete using “like” or “as” in English. “My love is like a red, red rose”—according to Robert Burns. Of course, he might have been more direct and used a metaphor declaring something is something else—for example: “My love is a red, red rose.” Simile and metaphor create imagery.

A symbol is an image that is repeated. Consider it as an association cluster presented in many ways. For instance, in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, the first American symbolic novel, the author used the “A” as a symbol in many guises to emphasize the difficulties of overcoming the past, its institutions, and the values of family and society. The color red appears in numerous guises throughout the novel.

Religious writings are fraught with symbolism. Shakespeare used it effectively in his plays as did the early Greeks. In Moby Dick, Melville also uses symbolism in a varied manner. The great white whale, a finite thing, becomes symbolic of numerous sociological ideas. Melville examines the nature of good and evil through images of light and dark. Ahab’s unyielding aloneness is emphasized by images of the heart and head.

In the twentieth century, writers like Hemingway and Fitzgerald were masters of symbolism. Color imagery was often used. For example, in the bullfight in The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway uses the colors red and green to create a vivid, violent scene. The images symbolically connect to his theme of the manly or macho code of behavior which was what Hemingway considered most important in life.

In The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald developed a theme he had earlier used in a short story entitled “Winter Dreams,” the love story of an American upper class girl and lower middle class young man—insider vs. outsider. Dexter Green is a romantic and his loss of Judy Jones causes him permanent pain because of the loss of his illusion of her more than the physical loss. She is a symbol of romance, just as Daisy is for Gatsby. In the novel the color green appears repeatedly and becomes a symbol for Daisy and the worldly wealth and privilege she represents. Gatsby looks longingly at the green light on Daisy’s dock across the water.

In Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge, the image of the Brooklyn Bridge becomes a tragic symbol of the lack of communication and connection between two brothers. Living as I do not far from the George Washington Bridge, I can particularly appreciate this. There have been many suicides of people jumping to their death from the bridge which I find terribly troubling. Yet although the bridge can be considered a symbol of death and failure to connect and misunderstanding, it can also be a symbol of life and hope. Not long ago, one Port Authority policeman was able to stop a jumper. On that very same day in September 2014, PA police helped to deliver a baby near the toll booths on the upper level of the bridge. Bridges can also serve as a symbol of connection.

Contemporary authors often use symbolism. Consider Harry Potter’s scar—a symbol of his being the “chosen one”, as well as his ability to overcome evil.  J.K. Rowling may have chosen to use symbolism in Dumbledore and Hagrid's names. Dan Brown wrote a thriller entitled The Lost Symbol.

In my novel Dark Moon Rising, the moon symbolizes romance. However, the moon is also a symbol of night and darkness, fear and hate. Since this is a paranormal novel fraught with mystery, moon imagery and symbolism work well with the underlying theme.

In my latest mystery suspense novel, The Inheritance, the house that the heroine has come back to her hometown to claim as part of her inheritance develops into a symbolic representation of her past and the peril in her present life.

Simile, metaphor and symbolism can effectively draw the reader into a story through vivid use of sense impressions: sight, sound, touch, smell, taste.

In meaningful writing, simile, metaphor, and symbolism add depth and perspective to fiction, uniting theme with plot, setting and characterization. Writers always need to consider the big picture. What imagery will work best to imply the underlying theme?

Your thoughts, input and comments appreciated.


Pamela S Thibodeaux said...

GREAT post Jacqueline!
Good luck and God's blessings

Jacqueline Seewald said...


Thanks for dropping by and commenting.

Loretta Wheeler said...

Oh, my! Heavy duty reading as I have my first cup of joe! :) Excellent post, always, you've given us a very useful tool to check our writing with. :) The examples were perfect :)


Susan said...

What a wonderful post! It should be required reading for everyone, especially young writers just beginning - and experienced writers who have perhaps lost sight of the basics. Thank you. Susan, aka Janis

Jacqueline Seewald said...


Hope I didn't put you back to sleep! I should have led in with something humorous--a good narrative hook. But I'll save that topic for another time.

Jacqueline Seewald said...


Thanks for commenting. I hope the discussion does prove useful for fellow writers.

Maris said...

Great post, Jacqueline. Now I need to look at my WIP and see how I can increase the symbolism.

Susan Oleksiw said...

Very well done. I especially liked the section on bridges. It sounded like you were moving into a personal essay, and I was drawn in by the examples of real lives you used. Very evocative.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi Maris,

I always find your blog posts helpful as well.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi Susan,

You are very perceptive. The George Washington Bridge is considered the busiest in the world. There is much to ponder in connection with it.

Betty Gordon said...

Another great post. I have a wip that I will look at with renewed energy.
Thanks for sharing.

Jacqueline Seewald said...


That's for reading and commenting on this blog.

Irene Bennett Brown said...

This is a fantastic post, which has helped me see the symbol, leading to theme, in my newest project. And I've always loved using sensory detail. Thanks so much.

Earl Staggs said...

Terrific stuff, Jacqueline, as always.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi Irene,

Thanks so much for dropping by. I look forward to reading your Five Star Western when it's published.

Jacqueline Seewald said...


Thank you. I always appreciate your blogs as well.

Patricia Gligor's Writers Forum said...

Great post as always, Jacquie! Your mention of F. Scott Fitzgerald reminded me of how much I love his books. "Tender is the Night" is my favorite.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi Pat,

Fitzgerald was an interesting writer all right. He really caught the spirit of the Roaring twenties.

Carole Price said...

Very nice. And I enjoyed your book The Inheritance.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi Carole,

Thank you. I'm glad you enjoyed The Inheritance.

Author B Swangin Webster said...

You have me looking at my writing in a new way. Great tips and I am reworking some scenes to see what happens!

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, B.,

Glad to be helpful!

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