Writing metaphors, themes and allegories

1425762_68070114I was struck by something this week.

I’ve been considering reworking and polishing an older steampunk short story of mine, “Wild Blue Yonder,” to release as a children’s book with illustrations. I wrote it about a year ago, as part of the monthly writing prompt for Quills & Quibbles Writing Group.

In reading it again, I suddenly realized it wasn’t just a story about a ragamuffin orphan escaping a dull, black and white existence in pursuit of the hope of a brighter, more colorful future.

I was writing about recovering from depression.

It was so obvious on that re-read, it sort of hit me in the gut. Yet at the time I was writing it, that was the furthest thing from my mind. I was just trying to write a fun adventure story and work in the three words I had to include. I didn’t intentionally set out to write a metaphor or allegory. And that’s why I think the one that emerged was particularly powerful. At least to me.

Similarly, in editing and revising the second episode of Belle Starr, it occurred to me that mental illness is also a theme of that series. It’s more obvious there, because Shaen and all the coyote pilots are literally insane. I hadn’t made much of a personal connection with Shaen before. Now I realize that some of her story was drawn from the experience of trying to navigate the workplace while dealing with PTSD several years ago.

Bitter Cold, my novella retelling of “The Snow Queen,” was a little different. Hans Christian Anderson’s original story was already laden with spiritual and allegorical themes, as were all his fairy tales. It was more about retaining those themes in a new version of the story, without beating people over the head with them.

I think themes, morals, metaphors and allegory, the things that add nuance and character to your writing, work best when they emerge naturally from the text rather than being something you intentionally work into the text. They work better as questions you raise in the reader’s mind than they do as answers you try to force-feed them.

What about you? What was a book where you felt the morals, themes or metaphors were handled particularly well? Or memorably badly?



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    Flannery O’Connor is THE BEST, IMO. “A Temple of the Holy Ghost” just might be my favorite story ever.

    1. Kat

      Will have to look for that. I read “A Good Man is Hard to Find” a while back.


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        I love all her stuff — and all of her stories are religious allegories — but “A Temple of the Holy Ghost” is my favorite.


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