|Duke! Meet Mia|
This summer my family took a detour from our usual Gulf beach vacation and instead visited the Atlantic. Fear of finding the beach slick with oil had us looking for other options, and we chose Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. En route we spent one night in Savannah and then took a day trip to Beaufort, South Carolina.
|Pat Conroy's Home|
|Spanish moss on live oaks|
We also learned that during the Yellow Fever epidemic, people who were thought to be dead were actually only comatose. Not sure how it was discovered (and can only imagine), but people were buried alive. Someone decided the most humane thing to do was to bury people with a string around their hands, and that string would be attached to a bell near the headstone. Someone would be hired to sit in the graveyard (thus the term “graveyard shift") to listen for the ringing of the bells. I’m assuming he also had a shovel!
If you passed someone in town whose funeral you’d attended, you might say, “Hey, didn’t we bury you last week?” To which he’d reply, “Yes, but I was a dead ringer and was saved by the bell.” More familiar phrases we still use today.
We also learned that a slave, who was typically never given a last name until freed, would often take on the name of his master or make one up of his own. Therefore many chose colors—White, Black, Greene or Browne—with an e sometimes added to stand for “emancipation.” Washington, Jackson and Jefferson—notable men of history—also inspired last names but curiously, few if any Lincolns.
|Black ceiling porch and his-n-her steps|
All this reminds me of how much symbolism means to story. Some are quite subtle—almost unintentional at times. Others tend to be more deliberate clues as though the writer is desperate to make sure we don’t miss them. I’m reminded of the female character in a movie who starts out with her hair pulled back, wearing conservative clothing and, by the end of the story, she’s tousled and darn near falling out of her shirt. (Think Sandra Bullock’s character in The Proposal.)
In To Kill a Mockingbird, the mockingbird symbolizes innocence, and the killing of a childlike bird relates to the pain and hurt innocent people endure in the story. In The Red Badge of Courage, the “red badge” is the blood from a bullet and therefore wounds received in battle—both physical and emotional—represent bravery and a loss of innocence.
Colors are often used as symbolism—red for blood, white for purity, green for nature or money, purple for royalty. Animals and insects too—wolves for danger or violence, dogs for loyalty, spiders for craftiness, rats and roaches for poverty and filth. A redheaded character is typically fiery and headstrong; a blonde often ditsy.
In my own manuscripts I’ve found I have a thing for motorcycles. Yes, I understand their danger—I was raised with a brother who raced them and I had my own trail bike. But in my stories they represent both an escape from the ordinary and a way to show a character moving out of her comfort zone.
Symbols play important roles in storytelling. The trick is to not fall back on the clichéd and create your own to make your story unique. Do you have any you’d like to share?