Previous parts in the Theme-Symbolism Integration Series are indexed at:
Symbolism is saying without saying.
Symbols are the essence of Show Don't Tell. It is how the writer conveys both information and emotion -- giving both a single context.
Symbolism often uses the visual cortex, but all the senses can be used.
Perhaps the biggest contributor to symbolism is culture, heritage, and tradition. Any object can become a "symbol" when used over generations in a particular way.
Wedding Bells, the Family Bible, a Gravestone, a monument or flag, an old soldier's uniform, a candle. Anything can have layers and layers of history-emotion-meaning imbued into it.
Alien Romance writers, like all science fiction writers developing non-human peoples, have to bring readers to understand the symbols of Aliens.
Symbols are fabricated by writers (or chosen from their real world story-setting history books) to explain the THEME without using words. Symbols are the alphabet of emotions, the "right brain" functions, and all the traditions of the Character's forefathers.
For questions, the answers to which are succinct Themes you can use, see:
You build your world, your fictional setting, from theme - from what you want to say.
So all sorts of questions having to do with "worldbuilding" are connected to the business of inventing symbols and explaining what they mean.
Theme and Symbol, when fully integrated (made into one single thing, indivisible), speak to the reader's subconscious and trigger floods of emotion, perhaps mystifying and intense, and make the reader memorize your byline.
But what does a fictional culture need a symbol for? Human cultures all have invented symbols, but do all Aliens do that? Or do they do it, but in a different way?
Creating the symbols meaningful to your Aliens is essential to bringing the reader to understand these Aliens -- and why a human's soul mate might lurk among these strangers.
Soul Mates respond to symbols in emotional ways which, if translated to music, would form a chord. There is emotional harmony between the two Characters. Multiple symbols can form an entire symphony -- a life together, a happily ever after.
Take for example, the problem of Depicting
an Alien-Human Romance that starts out with repulsion between the two main characters. Maybe they are on opposite sides of a war, or one does something the other considers immoral or degenerate.
But the plot calls for them to end up together -- in an HEA - a Happily Ever After life spanning the stars. Or maybe spanning Galaxies, or Time Itself.
See the Guest Post by Julie E. Czerneda
https://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2018/02/guest-post-by-julie-e-czerneda.html where I rave (once again) about her long and complex Inter-Dimensional-Romance -- a whole universe driven and brought to a satisfying point of HEA by a simple and beautiful Love.
Julie's two characters start out strangers, with distrust and maybe condescension between them. It is awkward, mysterious, strange -- not a friction-less love at first sight. But they literally save the universe. It just takes a while.
How can you make an HEA plot work when it starts with two people entirely, relentlessly, hopelessly at odds?
What in our everyday reality of human life would readers be familiar with that depicts this transformation?
When new writers, (who have seen this phenomenon draw two people into lifelong marriage,) try to depict what they have seen in reality, they end up narrating "backstory" -- all the things that happened before anything happened, before the story started but which make the story happen.
When related to a reader in that order (backwards) and using only narrative, a little dialogue, even peppered with a bit of description, the result is boring, and few readers will get beyond Chapter Two.
When you are certain the reader must understand these things BEFORE reading the story -- you produce what is known as the Expository Lump.
Such lumps "tell without showing."
That's not a "story" -- it is a lecture.
When your readers must know something before the impact of something else will score an emotional high for the reader, you probably have hold of a series, as Julie E. Czerneda discovered, and very possibly you have hold of the series by the wrong end. Julie got a grip on her epic by the right end, and the entire odd universe she invented unfolded and cradled her Characters perfectly.
The way writers tell themselves stories is the opposite way (mirror image) of the way readers read themselves stories.
The writer has to learn to take what is imagined and turn it around, inside out and upside down - even backwards - to find a viewpoint angle in time-space-character which has artistic composition enough to draw a reader into the story.
In photography, or web page layout, they have made a science of "focusing" the viewer's eye, the attention, using "composition." Story structure works the same way. Symbols are the images that must be laid out in a composition to focus the emotional intelligence of the reader on the substance of the theme -- without telling the reader what the theme is.
So how do you compact all that information the reader must know before they know anything at all?
How do you plant the seed of Romance in the reader's mind where they don't see it growing until it blossoms?
One of the most popular plots is the Hate At First Sight which turns to Eternal Love -- but how can you Symbolize True Love amidst hatred and revulsion?
It takes space. Decades ago, the entire Romance field consisted of 50,000 word novels -- little skinny things you could read on an airplane and toss in the trash when you deplane.
Then Science Fiction lovers spun off the Adult Fantasy field -- with big, fat, lovely, complex Relationship Driven Fantasy novels.
Then Big Fat novels exploded into the general Romance field (Historicals led the way, I think).
Now, most Romance Novels take a few evenings to read.
Why is that?
What is it about the Romance field that requires all those words to tell the story?
Is it the sex scenes -- just padded in between actual plot developments?
Partly, yes, but I think the main reason is that, like Action-Adventure, the Romance field has begun to explore the vast, untapped depths of human psychology.
The thing about early science fiction novels that attracted such scorn (up until Star Trek) was simply that, like early Comics, the characters underwent huge psychological turn-arounds, complete change of essential Character, (epiphany moments), after a single Plot Event.
Epiphany does not work that way in real life.
We have a MOMENT -- when we "see the light" -- and feel "changed forever." And then we REVERT to old habits.
Only gradually, over years, does the Epiphany take hold and draw us into a more mature self-image and thus view of the world, and a new way of functioning.
Later - decades later - we look back and see it was that one, single, moment when "everything changed." And most of us realize that it was indeed that moment, but then much-much-much more gradual assimilation of the meaning of that moment, and then implementing it in life.
Change can be abrupt -- such as the sudden loss of a loved one in a car crash - or it can be gradual -- such as the loss of a loved one to recurrent Cancer.
But the loss of what was, (job, home, family, -- think of all those who have lost their houses and jobs to hurricanes and wild fires in 2017 -- ) leads to the acquisition of what will be.
It isn't about THINGS. It is about self-image.
Acquire a new self-image, and the things (symbols) in your life (Character) automatically change. Abrupt change is painful. Slow change just draws the pain out and out and out. But slow change (maybe taking 4-10 years of hard living) leads to permanent change -- a true Ever After situation can be crafted step by step. (e.g. get a new college degree, or job credential, better job, move to another country, found a business).
Along the path of change, THINGS acquire the status of SYMBOLS.
In a Romance, a couple will have one of those "transported" moments and designate the music they danced to that night as "Our Song." Or the place it happened as "Our Place." Or the clothing they were wearing as "Our Lucky Outfit." Or perhaps the make of car (that saved them from injury in a crash) as "Our Lucky Car" and always buy that brand of car.
People create symbols -- love and hate all generate symbolism.
The most potent symbols are generated at moments of Change.
An example is the flag of a country. The American Flag was created at the moment of breakaway into independence as a nation and symbolizes the independence of individuals -- a self-image of the pioneering spirit shared in the 13 Colonies, strong individuals bound by their beliefs.
If Aliens come to Earth to (save us from whatever) do something -- say the Aliens are being chased by worse Aliens (Gini Koch did that in her Aliens Series - big fat books driven entirely by Romance). Earth decides these refugees are "The Good Guys" and we take them in, then turn and fight their pursuers -- and create a NEW FLAG to represent that Earth Alliance.
That new flag becomes a symbol of human-alien unity.
Uniting two civilizations under one symbol takes a long series of very big fat Romance novels.
And yes, starting such a series by narrating the history of the galaxy that led to the first arriving refugees and their war with their pursuers being so catastrophically lost, would just bore readers to tears. Well, actually, readers would just toss the book after the first 3 pages.
But if you start crafting the opening with a human meeting an Alien Refugee (think of the film STARMAN), distrust, strangeness, -- and then instead of just falling into an alliance based on sympathy, -- you set them at odds over a symbolic issue, you have the springboard into a long series.
If you start with your Star-Crossed Lovers at odds, you have to convince the modern Romance reader that the evolution of your Characters' Relationship is possible.
How exactly can a human come to love a person (human or alien) that they find revolting, disgusting, horrifying, or threatening in some way.
The writer must study human psychology -- both actual university course textbooks on psychology, and modern self-help pop psychology with a special focus on the differences between them.
Then the writer must SHOW DON'T TELL that difference between what is actually known about human psychology and what the reader thinks is known, what is popularized.
Find the difference between actual science and pop-science that you want to reveal or argue about -- define it in one sentence.
Then make that difference the core driver of the Initial Reaction of the two Characters who will hold each other in such low regard, maybe contempt.
It could be that one will hold the other in Contempt and the other will regard the one who holds the Contempt as Willfully Ignorant Bastard.
Or they could each see the other in the same very unattractive light.
Find the reason behind each Character's view of the other.
Now, design the epiphany each encounters that changes their view.
Create the symbol they will later consider "Our Song/Place/Garmet"
Derive that Symbol from the difference between real-science psychology and pop-science psychology.
In other words, concretize an abstract concept.
Make sure that concrete object (symbol) is present in your opening scene and ending scene.
It should also be on the exact middle page -- and at that mid-point, you reveal the true meaning to them.
If it is a 14 book series -- book 7's middle page is that Epiphany magically attached to the Symbol.
A single symbol may come in a variety of shapes.
Note how in our discussion of Why Do We Cry At Weddings -- we mention a wide variety of symbols of weddings. Certain things symbolize weddings -- others don't. There is a mystical relationship between a physical object and what it can (or can't) symbolize.
Symbolism (for humans, and one supposes for Aliens) is not random. Not just anything can become a symbol of whatever. You don't get to invent the entire mechaniism of human psychology freehand, and just put in what seems "cool" to you, for the heck of it.
Creating Symbols is almost an exact science. But it is still more than half artform.
A lot of a writer's time, and workday, is spent contemplating symbols and symbolism. A picture is worth a thousand words. Symbols, used well, move the plot, explain the backstory, break up expository lumps, transform narrative into description, and even create settings.
For example, as a writing exercise, set a love scene at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. -- right there at the foot of the seated statue.
Now pick that scene up, and set it on the walkway of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Examine what you have to change.
Setting = Symbolism.
So, humans think in symbols and humans feel in symbols. Things, objects, heritage, -- all in free association with abstract ideas.
The reader starts with the described symbol, and then feels the idea.
The writer starts with the feeling of the idea, and then creates the symbol.
Writing is backwards from reading.
When you've got that one nailed, and can think backwards -- every novel you read will become something very different than a novel.
Learning to think backwards changes your life. It takes getting through an epiphany to transform yourself from a reader into a writer. (or vice-versa; some people are born writers).
So study the psychology of the epiphany, and learn to pilot your readers through a Character's epiphany from being utterly blind to their own "self" to having a good view of how their inner mind works. Real people do this constantly, all the time through life. Characters, only once.
That's right. Story is just about defined by the high-point of a Character's Life. Story is the MOMENT when a Character's life changes, and their self-image changes, and their behavior changes, and thus the results of their actions change.
CHANGE is the essence of Conflict which is the essence of story.
Conflict produces change in Characters.
The biggest, single, and most common Conflict all of us are familiar with is Romance itself.
Romance happens when we set aside our self-image and embrace Another Person.
So to pilot your readers through the transformative moment of Romance, you need to select a Conflict that will cause your Character to CHANGE -- from "this" type of person to "that" type of person.
You could write a self-help non-fiction book about what forces a person encounters in life that cause them to change -- and probably sell more copies than any Romance novel. But if you want to write a novel, leave the narrative and lecture on the shelf in your mind, and focus on the Conflict that Causes your Characters to Change Each Other.
If they will end up at an HEA, in love forever, then start with them having an innate antipathy. Explain that antipathy with symbols, and narrate it with conflict (he did this; therefore she did that).
Here is one key to dissolving the expository lump.
As the plot progresses, the story progresses. Each has a Beginning, a Middle, and an End.
Start your love story with the two Characters averse to one another.
Make a Middle where the aversion abates to neutrality.
End when you transform that neutrality to love.
Make the readers believe the theme of Love Conquers All by Showing Without Telling a basic principle of psychology.
Here's an example.
You see in others what you love or dislike about yourself - you see yourself in others - but "Love" of a certain HEA type happens when you meet a person whose aura or presence brings out the BEST IN YOU - and though the worst still exists, the BEST comes to dominate your life-expression.
Then you love your "self" (flaws and all) and are able to love this Other (flaws and all). It is a psychological vertical learning curve leading to the kind of maturity that can establish and manage an HEA life.