I remember the good ol’ days of memorizing vocab words that I could barely pronounce, let alone understand, until the point that I hated them with a fiery passion. I remember being handed a worksheet covered from top to bottom in long sentences, each of which had to be labeled as either pathos, ethos, or logos. I remember having to differentiate between metaphors and similes. I remember taking the final AP (Advanced Placement) exam and feeling like my hand was just going to fall off after writing so many essays.
Despite all that, it was still my favorite class. I was in my element. Being graded on how well I could read and write was a godsend.
I was watching a movie the other day and there was a scene where two of the characters confronted each other on top of a high-rise building overlooking the city below. It made me realize something…
Sure, having a showdown on a rooftop is cliche and way overused, but it has its merits. It symbolizes the struggle of the characters, the precariousness of the situation. You find your heart beating faster as they move closer to the edge. Is the pressure too much? Will one of them jump?
Probably not. But the movie has you hook, line, and sinker.
It’s the same thing with writing. You have to pull your readers in, make them sympathize and pity the characters who are yelling their hearts out on some random company’s roof. If it’s a breakup between lovers, then prepare yourself for a long scene of one of them running down the stairs instead of taking the elevator. This is also a symbol. Halfway down the spiral of emotions, the character realizes it’s over. He/she can’t go back up to the roof and beg forgiveness. They must continue down, further and further away from the past.
Nothing is simple. Everything is a symbol. (Ha! That rhythms!)
It’s the same thing with flowers. As a writer, if you want to subtly insert some foreshadowing into your story, then add flowers. The beginning can be full of bliss and happiness, but then it’s discovered that your bouquet of roses, the very symbol of passionate love, has wilted. Out of nowhere, your characters is punched in the face with reality. Their lover/sweetheart/whatever is actually a murderer and on the run from police. Your character goes from a simple housewife to felon within minutes.
Insignificant details are very rarely insignificant. If high school taught me anything, it’s to pay close attention when reading. One simple little sentence could turn the tides of an otherwise bland story. If you don’t believe, just look up The Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck. Spoiler alert: everything is a symbol.