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imageryWE love movies because we can SEE the action and HEAR voices. And until theaters have surround Smell & Touch—as Aldous Huxley wrote about in Brave New World—the WRITTEN word still has the advantage!

In literary terms, IMAGERY is a picture made from words. (Writers, this might be a source of pleasure & joy or frustration & agony). The beauty of imagery is that it creates tone and mood. One can describe creepy things using dark, gloomy words OR NOT.

Don’t forget to include imagery (SHOW, don’t tell) in your work.

Types of Imagery:

  • auditory (sound): Is it loud, strident, a cacophony, a symphony?  Sometime using a simile helps. It sounded like _______. Similes can get old fast, though. Can you turn the noun into an adjective? I once listened to a South American howler monkey call 20 times on youtube before I could describe its unique vocalizations.
  • EX: Overlaying all this, a soundtrack:choo-k-choo-k-choo-k-choo-k-choo-k–the metronomic rhythm of an Amtrak train rolling down the line to California, a sound that called to mind an old camera reel moving frames of images along a linear track, telling a story.
  • visual (sight): Too often I see new writers use words like “amazing”  or “spectacular” to describe a view. Those words do not help the read see the amazingness!
  • EX: “…or the life of him, he couldn’t figure why these East Enders called themselves black. He kept looking and looking, and the colors he found were gingersnap and light fudge and dark fudge and acorn and butter rum and cinnamon and burnt orange. But never licorice, which, to him, was real black.”
  • tactile (touch): There’s lots of great sites and lists for “touch” imagery. Even a Thesaurus search yields results. Stay away from the banal—a word like rough is vague. There’s 2-day old facial hair rough, sandpaper rough, stucco rough, tree bark rough….
  • thermal (hot/cold):Remember, heat and cold are connected to emotions. One can be “hot” with passionate or “hot with anger. A person may have a “cold” unemotional  personality OR their “cold” actions may reveal cruel intentions.
  • olfactory (smell): I sniff my spice rack often to get handle on a fragrance I want to portray.
  • gustatory (taste)It tasted yummy? Oh, please!  Use descriptors to bring the flavor & texture of the food to your readers. Have you ever read a novel where you are hungry for the food/drink consumed by the characters? If I’m reading an English novel, I eschew coffee for tea!  
  • EX:  “Tumbling through the ocean water after being overtaken by the monstrous wave, Mark unintentionally took a gulp of the briny, bitter mass, causing him to cough and gag.”
  • kinesthetic (sensation of movement):“At last, swooping at a street corner by a fountain, one of its wheels came to a sickening little jolt, and there was a loud city from a number of voices, and the horses reared and plunged.”
  • Organic: Describes feelings, emotions, and intent.

When does one add in imagery? There’s no rule. I add imagery in the second draft, tweak & fine tune the diction in a 3rd draft—and might toss some out in a 4th draft because it was unnecessary.

Let’s take a look at two of the masters!

The opening paragraph of Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

  • It was a pleasure to burn. It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed. With the nozzle in his fists, with this great python spitting its venomous kerosene upon the world, the blood pounded in his head, and his hands were the hands of some amazing conductor playing all the symphonies of blazing and burning to bring down the tatters and charcoal ruins of history. With his symbolic helmet numbered 451 on his solid head, and his eyes all orange flame with the thought of what came next, he flicked the igniter and the house jumped up in a gorging fire that burned the evening sky red and yellow and black. He strode in a swarm of fireflies. He wanted above all, like the old joke, to shove a marshmallow on a stick in the furnace, while the flapping pigeon-winged books died on the porch and lawn of the house. While the books went up in sparkling whirls and blew away on a wind turned dark with burning.

Here’s another from Paradise of the Blind  by Duong Thu Huong:

  • The song echoed blue and icy through our space. Outside, the sun shone, but here, I could feel the chill of exile under my skin, in my bones. The song resonated like the thinnest thread of silver lost in the blue of the sky. I followed it and felt myself pulled back to the edge of the earth, to a familiar river and beach of blinding white sand. A ripped sail tossed amid the waves, buffeted by the sharp, anguished cries of migratory birds as they prepared for flight.

Have fun getting your readers to SEE, HEAR, TOUCH, FEEL, SMELL your world!

Related Links:  Rock Your Writing; Click  Amazon for novels.


Seasons in Literature

seasonThere is a season…write, write, write—what? That’s not the song’s lyrics?

Before you write that plot, stop and think about season! ( Even Southern California has seasons–sort of).

The symbolism found in seasons has deep roots in literature…and life! That’s because seasons really mattered in ancient times. Agrarian societies depended on seasons ( and weather) to plow, grow, and harvest food. Agriculture united peoples, tribes, and groups. It was a means of achieving wealth. Food is life! So, naturally, seasons, because they are tied to farming and thus food and thus life, were fraught with all kinds of symbolic meanings.

Here’s a few seasonal considerations:

Spring: The cycle of life is beginning
  • Youth  & childhood.
  • Folks are hopeful, fresh, and anticipatory.
  • New life emerges from plants. Rain nourishes new life.
  • Buds, flowers, birds, butterflies, sunshine…all good.
  • Folks sow seeds.
  • Think: A fresh start. A new beginning. Rebirth. Resurrection ( Easter)
Summer: Life is in full swing.
  • Young adulthood
  • Energy & vitality is abundant.
  • Romance and passion sizzle during summer’s hot months.
  • Think: Grease, “summer lovin’ happened so fast..”
  • Food is plentiful. There are vegetables to harvest and fruit hanging from trees.
  • In The Great Gatsby, on the longest day of the year and in sweltering heat, love, lust, and passion fare up. Thus,
  • With increased temperature brings “heated” arguments and boiling tempers.
  • Love and anger are both “hot” emotions.
Fall: Life is reaped and winding down.
  • middle age.
  • Folks are fatigued from the harvest or age.
  • Harvest is associated with abundance and prosperity.
  • Folks give thanks to their god/gods for a plentiful harvest
  • Gratitude for good harvests result in sharing & celebratory feasts.
  • A time to count one’s blessings.
Winter: Life is dormant or dead.
  • Old age & death
  • Often equated with anger, resentment, discontent, or hatred. These emotions are equated with “coldness.”   NOTE: Anger can be either hot or cold. Is the person hot-headed, or cold-blooded? The anger differs in intensity and outward appearance.
  • Worry and anxiety is another emotion associated with this season, because food had to last through the winter. Religious holidays brought joy to the cold dreary days of winter.
  • There’s a great final scene in the movie version of Phantom of the Opera. The old man places a toy on his beloved dead wife’s grave. There, in the dismal gray setting and in white snow, lies the Phantom’s red rose! A vivid contrast and reminder of passions long ago. The scene would not have been the same had it been any other season.
  • Season can:
  • be a plot device
  • be ironic ( a couple finds love in the dead of winter only to  break up in the summer)
  • be symbolic of a character’s personality; character’s relationship; a theme; a tone; and/or reveal emotions
  • foreshadow an event, problem, change in relationship
  • be thematic
  • be a pattern or mirror someone’s life or plot line.

How effectively are you using season in your novel?

Have fun writing your novel!

By the way, Ceres, goddess of the Harvest, is holding wheat in the picture!

Related Links:  Rock Your Writing; Click Amazon for novels.

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Themes for Novels

world2You wrote a novel! Yeah! Now you have to pitch your fab story to an agent and/or write the dreaded query. In addition to crafting the one-line “elevator” pitch, it is also important to convey the essence or theme of your story.

A theme is the recurring focus or topic evident in your novel or short story. Themes are the basic, central, integral, and often universal ideas explored in a literary work. Most novels have several themes.

Quick story: Me, at a conference, making writer small talk.
Me: What’s the theme of your novel? 
Man: It’s a murder mystery.
Me: That’s a genre. What’s the theme…um… what’s the story about?
Man: Love
Me: Love is a subject, not a theme. What point are you making about love?
Man: Everybody needs love.
Me: That’s a statement. The importance of love would be a theme.
Man: What’s your point?
Me: it might help to know the theme before you pitch the agents.
Man: Whatever, lady.

Theme is not explained in ONE WORD. Revenge. Loss. Betrayal. Atonement—those are subjects—and a  good place to start.

Themes straddle the line between specificity and vagueness. Fun, right?

Below is a theme primer. It’s a list of abstract concepts designed to help articulate theme. This  is not a conclusive list, merely a springboard of concepts and topics to get you started.


A few examples from literature.
Brave New World: The incompatibility of happiness and truth
Fahrenheit 451: Consequences of an entertainment-driven society
Huck Finn: Hypocrisy of civilized society
The Great Gatsby:  Moral depravity of upper class
A Midsummer Night’s Dream: The folly of young love


Here’s a few themes from my own novels:

The Merkabah Series:
  •  Mysteries of a multi-dimensional universe
  • Commonalities behind ancient mythologies
  • Struggles of conquering one’s fears
and from The Emperor’s Assassin:
  • importance of friendship
  • the consequences of dangerous knowledge
  • the cost of freedom

Have fun writing your theme!

Related Links:  Rock Your Writing;


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Sex in Literature

sexRYWIntercourse. Coupling. Hanky panky. Horizontal mambo. Lovemaking. Copulation. Fornication. Coitus. Carnal Knowledge. To know. Relations.

That’s a small sampling of synonyms–each eliciting a different reaction by virtue of its connotation. Well…as you can imagine, there are just as many reasons WHY sex scenes are included in a novel!

Writing a sex scene is tricky.  Warning: This is a PG blog–NO X-rated language here. There’s a wide range of spice levels–from G-rated to  X-rated, and so you must ask yourself ( either as writer or reader):

WHY is the sex scene there? Is it advancing the plot? And HOW is it advancing the plot? Is it gratuitous? ( erotica) OR…

Is the sex scene about something other than sex? Is the sex scene, in fact, a metaphor or symbol of a character’s emotional growth or downfall? Is the sex scene a symbol for the characters’ relationship? Is it thematic?

Sex can:
  • reveal emotional/societal/cultural/gender relationships between characters
  • foreshadow a change in a relationship
  • reveal a character’s emotional state. This is a biggie.
  • be a plot device

>>>Is sex a metaphor for a character’s (finally) allowing themselves emotional/physical pleasure OR does their non-pleasure of the act symbolic of their inability to be intimate  or “let go.” Is the character using sex for selfish purposes?  In the novel Effi Briest, the married protagonist, has an affair with a married man because she’s bored!

>>>Is the character sacrificing themselves sexually for a cause/purpose–be it honorable or not? In Kafka on the Shore, the protagonist uses sex as a way of sacrificing himself to fulfill a bizarre prophesy.

>>>Is the character using sex to rebel against cultural/family/gender/societal/ expectations or rules? If the act is especially taboo, what is the character’s motivation or reason?

>>>Is sex symbolic of the character’s resigned attitude toward  a cultural/family/gender/societal expectation? In The Space Between Us a character from a lower caste has sex with her higher caste employer. She has no choice but to submit to his demands knowing she would be fired for non-compliance.

>>>Is the character the aggressor? passive? the instigator? innocent? experienced? Is the sex act a metaphor for who’s in control? Once again, in Effi Briest, the protagonist is very much the naive innocent who is overcome by the attentions of a notorious flirt.

>>>Is the sex symbolic for their spiritual/emotional enlightenment?

>>>Is sex an act of supplication? Is the character begging/asking for love/acceptance/privilege/favor/ their life?

>>>Is the sex symbolic of the transcendent or divine nature of love? In Like Water for Chocolate, the final sex scene reveals the transcendent power of true love.

If an older, experienced man or woman is having sex with a younger naive person, is sex a symbol for:

  • destruction of innocence
  • using power or position to exploit another
  • blatant disregard for society/people/culture
  • destroying a life
  • corrupting their conquests morals/values

Taking all the above into account, the challenge is using  appropriate language and tone to convey your true purpose ( the author’s intent) for including THE SEX. Graphic language OR flowery words OR vague diction will contribute to your intent. Have fun ( but not too much, hehe) writing your sex scene!

Related Links:  Rock Your Writing; Click HERE for Amazon link.

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More archetypes

thinkerArchetypes are useful when writing a novel. Just don’t confuse them with hackneyed tropes. Archetypes also help readers understand something about themselves.

Remember, archetypes evolved with time, rising from ideas, actions, and images experienced by all humans, becoming part of our collective unconscious (or so says psychoanalyst Carl Jung).

The following is a list of common literary archetypes:

The Innocent: Too trusting, optimistic, and a bit on the needy side. If your protagonist is an Innocent, readers expect spiritual/ emotional growth or loss of innocence somewhere during the course of the story. Innocents help readers realize their own innocence OR allow them to feel superior.

Male Heroes: Click HERE for previous blog

Female Heroes: Click HERE for previous blog

Regular Gal/Guy: These characters are the quintessential  “every man.”  They are  unpretentious (don’t shop at Gucci) and don’t expect a whole lot from life. They “keep it real,” but are also empathetic. When push comes to shove, they display street smarts and courage. Think, Steve Carell and Tina Fey in Date Night. Most of us are “regular people” so we love it when a one of us is victorious over the Bad Guy!

Outlaw/Destroyer: ANGRY and boiling with rage ( even if it’s under the surface), the Outlaw is ruthless in his quest to make right what he believes is socially/morally/culturally/ religiously wrong. Because the Outlaw asks hard questions to which there are often no right answers, he helps readers see a different ( if not tainted) perspective.

Seeker: Regardless of what they claim to seek, the end result is the same. They find knowledge, be it mystical, self understanding, enlightenment, scientific, or religious. Their adversarial personalities make them loners. Seekers allow readers to see another perspective and appreciate our own unanswered questions about life.

Caregiver: Generous to a fault, and often prone to martyrdom, the Caregiver is compassionate and kind, but can be an enabler. Depending on the author’s intent, a reader may feel frustrated, saddened, conflicted, or uplifted by the Caregiver.

Ruler: King. Emperor. CEO. President. It’s good to be King. You know the saying, a lion does not concern itself with the problems of sheep…well, the Ruler inspires readers to take control of one’s destiny and not worry about what others think.

Sage: Calling Yoda! Speak the truth, they do. Yes. Set you free with age-old wisdom, they will. Overcome weaknesses, must you. Sages offer an objective and perhaps metaphysical view of the world. Understand, you will.

Magician: They hold power in their hand (or wand) wielding via science, magic, sorcery, or a bit of all three, transforming situations/people/things in influential ways. Creepy or divine, the Magician inspires readers to use every power at their command to affect change. Most magicians struggle with their power…the temptation to use it for personal gain is often their tragic flaw.

Temptress: Sultry, seductive, sensuous. All the men want her. She’s usually bad news and one reason a hero falls. A Temptress helps readers realize there’s a little bit of Eve in all of us.

Platonic Ideal: Found in the last four Dan Brown novels, the Platonic Ideal is an intellectual match up for the protagonist. It is only by combining their ideas and knowledge that they triumph over the Bad Guy. They offer readers the advantages of both a man’s and woman’s perspective without the sex. And if sex is off the table, the reader can concentrate on the story, as opposed to anticipating a sex scene or romance.

Trickster: A favorite archetype in many myths ( think Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Coyote in Native American mythology, or Bart Simpson). The Trickster is naughty and mischievous, but ultimately, there’s a lesson to be learned.

Jester: Usually lazy, this fun-loving archetype enjoys life. He shows readers how to get some fun out of their own boring lives or jobs.

Have fun creating your characters!

Related Links:  Rock Your Writing;

Female Heroes

female heroesNothin’ better than a WOMAN hero!
 Literature, movies, myths, legends, and real life are full of them!

This is part 2 of the Archetype blogs.

Here’s a list of 8 female hero archetypes.

Remember an archetype is defined as a  consistent pattern, model or image that recurs so often in life and literature, it is deemed universal !

  • Boss: She’s a take charge kinda gal and tolerates nothing less than R–E–S–P–E–C–T! She’s goal-driven, can-do, get-outta-my way hero!
  • Survivor: This gal is often mysterious and devious. Manipulation is her middle name. A tough life made her a survivor. Think Scarlet O’Hara, “As god is my witness, I’ll never go hungry again!”
  • Free Spirit: Original and playful, this gal may go off on a whim and follow her heart, but her intentions are good–if not unconventional. She means well, but things don’t often go as planned–leaving a trail of misdeeds, mess-ups, and mayhem. Lucille Ball played this role to a T.
  • Spunky Kid: Not really a kid, this younger female is all the rage in modern novels! She has tons of friends, is always ready to help out, and is a great member of the team. She may not win Most valuable Player of the Year, but she does find her own place in the world.
  • Librarian: So damn sexy under that buttoned-up blouse, nerdy glasses, and up-do! She’s a brainy chick and proud of it. This hero thinks she has the answers–and probably does–but tends to be opinionated and stubborn.  Willow in Buffy The Vampire Slayer or Evie from The Mummy are film examples.
  • Waif: A favorite of older Disney movies, this is the quintessential Damsel in Distress. She’s a hero who must be rescued—by a “Prince,” of course. Even if she is not innocent, she has an air of innocence about her.
  • Nurturer: Mom as hero! This efficient, optimistic woman takes care of everyone, and sets them on the right path! Often, she is portrays as peaceful and composed. Think: Mary Poppins.
  • Crusader: Another favorite of modern novels ( especially SciFi and paranormal). A modern  female hero with a street smart, ass-kicking, take-no-prisoners vibe! If you ain’t with her, then you’re against her! Buffy ( natch) and Xena are 2 examples.

Have fun creating your fab female hero!

Related Links:  Rock Your Writing: Click HERE for Amazon link.

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Hero archetypes

bicep2Archetypes! What are they?

Archetypes are defined as a  consistent pattern, model or image that recurs so often in life and literature, it is deemed universal !

Steven Fox, PH.D says archetypes are, “Patterns of thought that are handed down through generations by culture and the quantum transmitting aspects of consciousness” in his dream analysis guide, Unlock Dream Power: 40 Keys to Find Your Path.

What kind of hero is in your novel? 

This is the first stop in our 3-part archetypes blog.

Male Heroes!

AdamJohnson1_nThe Chief: The quintessential alpha macho dude. He’s a tough, decisive natural leader. (I’m the decider and I decide) . Although stubborn, arrogant, and domineering he gets the job done! Captain James T. Kirk, anyone?

Bad Boy: Yeah, yeah, all the women go for this type. He’s the guy from the wrong side of tracks, thumbs his nose at authority, and may have anger issues.  He has oodles of charm and plenty of street smarts. James Dean & Rhett Butler have my vote.

Swashbuckler: Bam! Smack! Punch! Wack! These manly men have no fear when it comes to feats of physical daring. They get any girl they want–sweeping her off her feet while swinging across a gorge. Indiana Jones, Jackie Chan characters, and Orlando Bloom in Pirates of the Caribbean are examples.

Warrior: Can you say Superhero? These heroes sticks up for the underdog and tend to beAdam J2_n reluctant, but ultimately come though because of their tenacity and honor.

Charmer: A not-so-reliable, less volatile version of the Bad Boy, this guy is all fun-fun-fun. Oh, he’ll show you a good time and is uber smooth, but he has a difficult time committing to a relationship.

Best Friend: Mr. Nice Guy, this hero doesn’t really want to punch anyone ( I’m thinking of Steve Carell in Date Night) and can be a bit bumbling. But gals don’t mind, because he’s decent and kind.

Professor:  Intelligent, logical, truthful but also stubborn introverts/nerds. Jeff  Goldblum in Independance Day or Jurassic Park.

Lost Soul:  Perhaps even more than the bad boy, women fall head over heels for the hero who needs spiritual/psychological saving. He has a tortured past, is a first-class brooder, and doesn’t get close to anyone. He’s usually an outcast and/or loner. Think Angel in  Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Denzel Washington in Man on Fire.

A special THANKS & hugs goes to Adam Johnson ( a former student) for letting me use two of his photos. (Yup, and he’s smart too!)

Have fun creating a hero!

Related Links:  Rock Your Writing;



POV1Point of View!

It’s an important decision for a writer because it impacts EVERYTHING  an author writes.
Quick true story: At a writers conference, a man told me about the murder/mystery he was writing.
“What’s the POV ?” I asked, pretending to be interested.
“I’m not sure.” He shrugged his shoulders.
“How can you not know? Whose head are you in? Do you use ‘he said, she said’ or ‘I said’?”
“I’m not sure. Does it really matter?”
“You’re joking, right?” I tried not to look appalled.
“Well, I don’t get hung up on all that stuff…I just write a good story.”


There’s lots of great books with comprehensive information about  POV ( I like The Art of Fiction by David Lodge).

A blog-quick recap of point-of-view:

1st person POV= “I”
  • the narrator is a character and uses “I” throughout the story
  • the reader doesn’t know any more than the character/narrator does
  • the reader is only in the narrator’s head
Writing issues include:
  • offering only a limited perspective to the reader. Is there a reason why you are telling the story through the eye of the protagonist/antagonist?
  • making certain narrator/character’s voice is authentic and believable. >>>Example: A highly educated character/narrator will use different words and syntax than a young child<<< AND their views and understanding of the world are very different.
  • finding ways to add “off screen” action or dialog that does not include the character/narrator.This can be achieved through another character’s telling of events or using font changes or chapters to indicate POV changes or multiple 1st person POVs.
  • accidentally assigning thoughts to another character that the character/narrator would not know. Unless, like Sookie Stackhouse, the character/narrator reads minds.
  • writing events/perceptions the narrator/character would NEVER know given their very limited perspective. <<Example: While showering, I heard the key in the front door downstairs rattle.>>Really? You heard that in the shower? I can’t tell you how many times I read impossible sensory perceptions by new writers. Remember, unless your character has eyes in the back of their head, you cannot write “the killer snuck up behind me and lifted his hand over my head.”
  • making sure thoughts of other characters are evident through action and/or dialog <<< Example: Mom was angry   vs   Mom burst into my room, then slammed the door behind her  OR Mom looked angry.>>>
3rd POV= “he” “she”
Most novels these days are written in limited POV
Writing issues include:
  • choosing how limited or omniscient the 3rd person POV will be. There’s a broad spectrum, from very limited (thoughts inferred by actions and/or dialog only) to completely omniscient ( mind reading narrator)
  • how many heads do you want your reader to be in?
  • more importantly, why do you need to be in a particular character’s head? Does it add to theme or plot? What purpose do multiple perspectives serve?
  • An advantage of omniscient POV is the reader gets to see into many characters’ heads. This adds depth and complexity to thematic issues or plot. It is also a way for  writers to manipulate/trick readers.)
  • One disadvantage of being in multiple heads is that it gives the story a more contrived feel.
  • A second disadvantage is that inexperienced writers do a lot of head-jumping for no specific story purpose, thus accidentally confusing a reader.

Mixing it up:

Multiple points of view are just that!
  • multiple first persons ( Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants)
  • Ist person and 3rd person ( anywhere on the limited/omniscient spectrum)
Multiple POVs issues:
  • is there a purpose?
  • can you execute that purpose? Read Kafka on the Shore for a mind bending look at multiple POV in action.
  • how does it reveal theme or drive the story?

Have fun reading your characters’ minds!

Related Links:  Rock Your Writing; Click HERE for Amazon link.

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Dining & Feasting

mealsIt was the best of times. It was the worst of times! Oh, the drama of the family meal! People eating and drinking together is tasty with yummy symbolism.

Why is that, you ask? In ancient times, sharing one’s meal symbolized hospitality and goodwill. Certain foods, drink, or days were associated with religious and social rituals.

If one was breaking bread with someone, it indicated friendship, truce, partnership, or an alliance. The human race hasn’t changed all that much—we still enjoy eating with those we like–and eschew eating with those we don’t.

Eating and/or fasting rituals are found in most religions. And I can’t think of a holiday that doesn’t center around or end in eating! Eating together & sharing food is an act of communion/agreement/fellowship/harmony.

I’m sure you can picture a few eating scenes in movies! (My favorite is the scene in Flashdance where the rich guy watches his date eat a lobster in a most provocative manner!)

Shared meals can:
  • be a plot device
  • reveal character
  • reveal the relationships between characters
  • be thematic
  • be an allusion to other famous religious meals or foods ( the Last Supper, maror & matzo of Passover)
  • be an allusion to famous literary meals (Tom Jones, Like Water for Chocolate, Good Earth,  Oliver Twist)

Writing a meal scene is challenging, but can reveal much about the plot, character, relationships, family dynamics, setting, or culture of the novel.

A few symbolism-weighty factors to consider:

  • Who is sharing the meal? Enemies? Lovers? Family? Strangers?
  • What foods are they eating? Is the food and drink symbolic of religion or social class, OR  is the food itself fraught with symbolism. See the posts Fruit of the GodsSacred Spices, and Foods of Life for information regarding the symbolism of some common foods. In the Merkabah Series, there are several eating scenes–each revealing something about the characters and their relationships. One character orders a flambeed dish. Yep! You bet it’s symbolic.
  • Why is this particular meal described? Why is it significant to the plot/character?
  • How does the meal end?  Did someone choke? ( plot device or sign of character “choking” on their own words or that of another’s).
  • Did someone stalk off—an indication the communing/fellowship/agreement went wrong. Remember the scene in Great Gatsby when Tom jumps up from the table to take a phone call from his girlfriend?
  • How is the character eating? Are they nibbling ( dainty ), gobbling ( glutton ), selective ( picky ). Sloppy or neat or overly fastidious? Did a character stop eating mid meal–and why? Is a woman enjoying her meal with great delight indicative of her sexual appetite? (Is she smacking her lips, making mmmm & aaahh & oohh noises?)
  • How does the character feel about the meal? Do they hate the food (closed-minded?) Trying new food (open-minded?)
  • Does a character take food from another’s plate? Do they refuse to share?
  • Does a character become sick? (is it a plot device OR is a character “sick of” or “sickened by” a character, conversation, or turn of events at the table?)
  • Is a character eating with his favorite 12 friends?( allusion to Last Supper)
  • Do the characters share a utensil, straw, or drink ( either accidentally or with purpose).
  • Does one character feed another? This may be erotic, suggestive, a prelude to sex, or reveal who is the boss in the relationship
  • What’s happening under the table? Hand-holding, clenched fists?
  • Is a character refusing to eat? In effect saying, I’m here with you, but I don’t like/approve of you.

An eating scene is full of chewy symbolic deliciousness.

Have fun feeding your characters!

Related Links:  Rock Your Writing;

Getting Wet

WATER is symbolic! You know that!

We use water to bless, baptize, cleanse, and purify.

Authors use a dunk under water to indicate a character’s spiritual change or spiritual rebirth!

A character might:

  • dance in the rain, indicating joy at their new lease on life.
  • jump in a lake/pond/river/ocean/pool of their own accord, signifying a determined effort to change.
  • be pushed or dragged into a lake/pond/river/ocean/pool, which may indicate their unwillingness to change OR they emerge as BAD/EVIL–think the Joker in Batman who falls into the vat of acid.
  • accidentally slip or trip into the water signifying a less purposeful change

Once immersed in water, the character can:

  • grab some driftwood and float merrily along with the current. This might signify the character’s understanding and acceptance of his rebirth. In Fahrenheit 451, Montag jumps into a river to escape death, grabs some driftwood and floats toward a new life–I think there’s about 3-pgs of his thoughts while floating.
  • almost drown.This might be the big slap-in-the-face-scene. It might serve as the character’s revelation; reveal guilt or failure; be thematic; or act as a plot device. In I Robot, the main character realizes the inhumanity of technology when the robot calculates the odds and saves him instead of the little girl. His a-ha moment.
  • drown. Once again this might be a plot device, or a poignant too-late revelation for a character.

Other symbolic factors to consider:

  • Is the water polluted?
  • Does the character float on his back and gaze at the sky (symbolic of divinity or limitless possibilities)
  • Does character struggle or get tangled in seaweed?
  • is the character dragged down by their possessions?
  • Is the water warm or cold or arctic?
  • Does someone SAVE the character?
  • Does character refuse to be saved?
  • Does the character save himself?
  • What is the body of water? The Ganges river or Red Sea might have a different meaning than a scummy pond or chlorinated swimming pool.
If character is baptized/reborn by rain, is it :
  • a summer shower
  • a hail storm
  • a drizzle
  • a torrential downfall
  • a storm complete with divine thunder and lightning
  • of flood-like epic proportions ( symbolic slap in the face and allusion to the Bible)

Remember IRONY blows this all “out of the water!”

Have fun soaking your characters!

 Related Links:  Rock Your Writing;Click HERE for Amazon link.

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Location location location

Rock Your Writing“Ain’t no river wide enough…ain’t no mountain high enough…to keep you away from me, babe.”

We know it’s not a real river or mountain but a symbolic obstacle to overcome.

Geography is more than just the setting of your novel!

It can express theme.
It can be a plot device!
And it may indicate or foreshadow a character’s:
  • moral growth or decay
  • emotion
  • problems or dilemmas

Geography can also serve as an indicator of morality, emotion, intellect, or spirituality.

Here’s a few examples of geography’s symbolism:

  • Mountains and higher elevations indicate moral righteousness or spiritual  awareness–it’s the whole closer to God thing. There’s a reason why the guru in every joke sits atop a mountain. In Frankenstein, the monster leads his creator across the tallest mountains and glaciers in Europe. This is ironic, since both monster and creator are immoral, indignant, murderous, insane, arrogant, and angry. Although the Dr. played god when he created the monster, neither character is high-minded nor virtuous enough to do the right thing. It’s an ironic and symbolic double whammy!
  • Steep ground suggests trials and tribulations to surmount. Think The Sound of Music song “Climb every mountain…”
  • Flat land may reveal the “flatness” or dullness of a character’s life.
  • Swamps imply low morals, poverty, lack of faith, a dirty or degraded sense of self, a connection to the primordial ooze of the earth so to speak.  WAIT! I know exactly what you’re thinking! “In Star Wars, Luke finds Yoda living in a swamp! Yoda is a master Jedi who did NOT go to the Dark Side. What’s he doing living in a swamp?” Well…it could be Lucas throwing some irony into the mix OR  be plot device AND/OR  might represent the now disrespected, disregarded state of the  Force.
  • Forests are dark and fraught with danger, implying emotional/spiritual/moral ignorance or heading into a place of emotional/spiritual/moral danger. In Effi Briest the two lovers take the low road into the dark forest only moments before the married protagonist decides to have an affair. (It’s like being hit in the head with a symbolic 2 by 4)
  • Gardens with flowers symbolize beauty, a desire for beauty, sex ( bees “pollinating” flowers), and if it’s a rose garden–well, roses have thorns–so a character is going to get hurt.
  • Vegetable gardens suggest practicality, abundance, frugality, and health, but not necessarily fertility.
  • Orchards–depending on the fruit or nut–is associated with  fertility, abundance, and prosperity.
  • Deserts hint at a character’s hopes and dreams drying up OR they have become an emotional/spiritual/moral wasteland.
  • Jungles are dangerous and contain scantily-clad heathens. Expect some loosening of morals OR spiritual soul searching OR primitive behavior.
  • Caves, as Plato’s Allegory of the Cave suggests, is all about shadows vs reality and  philosophical enlightenment ( yeah, I know, a total over-simplification)
  • Cliffs. Remember the Cliffs of Insanity in Princess Bride? Precipices shout DANGER! A character OR sentiment OR perception OR judgement OR insight OR  Truth is going over the edge–dashed to bits by the rocks below. If you have a cliff in your novel–put it to symbolic use.
  • A setting in the city may indicate the story’s fast-paced cosmopolitan complex plot OR the character’s urban lifestyle OR serve as a sharp contrast to either.
  • Small town or rural settings tell a reader the plot will be charming, cozy OR small town creepy OR serve as irony.

Don’t forget IRONY trumps any of this!

So take some advice from realtors—it’s all about location, location, location!

Related Links:  Rock Your Writing; Click HERE for Amazon link.

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Stormy Weather

Rock Your WritingWeather is more than just the change of atmospheric conditions! It’s fraught with symbolism—especially bad weather.

Need to portend a change? Use weather!

 A few quick examples:

  • The crack of thunder after a character’s ominous OR foreboding OR creepy statement
  • Gathering rain clouds signal the brewing emotional storm of  characters
  • Rain and thunder and lightning means a homicidal maniac or demon from hell is unleashed upon the earth
  • Rain, thunder & lightning suggests a bit of divine wrath or judgement is coming your character’s way
  • Bad weather in every Shakespearean play signifies “something wicked this way comes”

Rain is never just rain! Snow is more than snow…and fog—oh, it’s misty with meaning…

Rain might be:
  • a plot device
  • the emotional or spiritual emotional cleansing or healing
  • a character’s drowning with despair—the rain acting as a metaphor for tearful emotions
  • a new life/new beginning/new outlook ( think: spring rain)
Other factors to keep in mind:
  • Is the rain gently sprinkling or pouring buckets?
  • Spring rain or summer deluge?
  • Is it raining WATER? Because in Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore, it rains fish.
  • A freezing cold rain might mean the character’s spiritual rebirth is one of heartlessness OR they become numb to their emotional pain
  • A fresh spring rain symbolizes a fresh start or rebirth of life—life renewed
  • Does the character have an umbrella? is their face lifted to the sky, or do they protect themselves with a heavy raincoat?
  • Are they “singing in the rain?”
  • Does they become splattered with mud? Another symbolic smack in the face—the mud symbolizing their life/situation spotting/soiling/ruining their new spiritual/emotional cleansing.
Snow is also rife with meaning:
  • Light, fluffy flakes are symbolic of happiness and romance and good will toward men ( are you having flashbacks of every sappy Christmas movie you ever saw?)
  • A snow storm, on the other hand, can be romantic if the couple is trapped in a supply-filled cabin OR damn terrorizing if something or someone is stalking the character.
Fog always indicates confusion.
  • The character is “in a fog” about their life, a relationship, or a problem.
  •  In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Dr. Frankenstein tracks the monster in thick fog– a so-obvious-it’s-a-slap-in-the-face metaphor for the mental confusion he feels about his responsibilities. The crazier the Dr. becomes, the more fog. Once in the fog, Dr. Frankenstein loses his way  both psychologically and morally, the fog acting as an atmospheric indicator of both psyche and soul.

So before writing “it was a dark and stormy night” you might want to consider the implications of the weather.

And don’t forget, a bit of well-placed IRONY throws ANY of this into a tailspin!

Have fun getting your character’s wet!

 Related Links: Rock Your Writing;


Character Violence

ViolenceBaM!  SmAcK! POW! 

Violence! We love it! And in many genres it’s 100% necessary! Most of us include some type of violence in our novels.

In literature, violence can be:

  • thematic: Think Fight Club or The Old Testament or Heart of Darkness or The Things They Carried or Persepolis.
  • Biblical: Wrestling with an angel, a la Jacob wresting with Metatron, OR the Crucifixion of Jesus OR a devastating flood
  • Shakespearean: “Tis not so deep as a well, nor as wide as a church door, but ’tis enough, ’twill serve. Ask for me tomorrow and you shall find a grave man.” ( Mercutio to Romeo after Tybalt stabs him) OR “Et tu, Brute?” ( after Brutus stabs Caesar)
  • Allegorical: The stoning or just the whole darn story in Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.”
  • Transcendent: The flames of passion  engulfing the two lovers in Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate
  • Metaphoric: Violence is equated with masculinity in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart
  • A plot device: Most action-adventure movies
  • Symbolic: In God Of Small Things, a character is beaten to a bloody pulp by the cops. It’s symbolic of: 1) the injustice of India’s caste system, 2) the consequences of disregarding cultural taboos, 3) cost of true love in a racist society
  • Gratuitous: What can I say? Some of us need a little BAM! POW! BASH !

Some factors to bear in mind when writing that violent scene:

  • The proximity of the two adversaries. The closer they are, the more intimate (personal) the violence.
  • The location where the violence occurs. A fight in a church has different implications than a fight in the forest.
  • The weapon: Buffy the Vampire Slayer kills demons with a wooden stake after kicking their evil ass. Nice and ‘old school’!
  • The ‘evilness’ of the bad guy! Does the Bad Guy get his comeuppance or is his less-than-painful death a symbol/metaphor for some point you’re making about culture/humanity/religion/gender/etc
  • What body part delivers the hits? Fist, leg, knee, hand, finger, head. elbow. A knee to the groin is ever so much nastier than a fist to the nose.
  • What body part takes the hits? A gal’s cutting a guy’s woo-hoo off is VERY symbolic.( hey this is a PG blog, my novels, however, are not.) And we all know what a stab in the back means! Hits from behind are associated with cowardice. Frontal attacks are usually equated with courage.

Have fun terrorizing your characters!

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Character Illness

diseaseHave you created a character who  sickens and/or dies?

Or maybe a character—for plot’s sake—just has TO GO!

Make it awesome by having their illness be SYMBOLIC or IRONIC or DIVINE .

Writers often use illness to reveal a character’s:
  • flaws or weaknesses
  • last thoughts
  • emotional/psychological/spiritual growth


  • A weak heart or heart attack  might be a metaphor for their heartlessness, or an indication they have too much heart/compassion, or a sign of a broken heart (tragic love).
  • Cancer may be symbolic of their evil nature or reveal the emotional damage inflicted by others. Brain cancer might be a metaphor for a character who thinks too much or not enough! Where the cancer originates could say a lot about your character’s proclivities, flaws, or strengths.
  • Malaria ( bad air ) could reveal the character’s penchant for spreading nasty rumors or, conversely, be the target of malicious gossip.
  • Seizures might reflect the character’s inability to control their emotions or be a physical manifestation of  the thrashing he receives from society/group/individual.
  • Consumption was the demise of many a character in novels written during the 19th century. It’s symptoms provided just the right amount of melodrama–deathbed confessions, long goodbyes, change of hearts, etc
  • HIV/AIDS may be a metaphor for a character who is not immune to the emotional hurt inflicted by society/culture/other characters.
  • Ebola & other hemorrhagic fevers may suggest a character’s emotional “bleeding.”
  • Bone disorders or back problems can reflect a character’s having “no back bone” or being weak willed ( FYI: bones symbolize strength)
  • Rabies may be symbolic of a character’s repressed hostility and aggressiveness.
  • Leprosy would surely indicate some kind of Biblical divine wrath.
  • In Effi Briest, the protagonist’s mother suffers from blurry vision brought on by some unknown ailment, thereby symbolizing her inability to “see” her daughter’s sin or “see” the hypocrisy of her aristocratic society.
  • In Joseph Conrad’s classic, Heart of Darkness,  Mr. Kurtz—the ivory transporter gone native—doesn’t die until returning to the boat bound for civilization. Symbolic? You betcha!
Diseases can be:
  • horrifyingly ugly and/or painful
  • tragic
  • picturesque
  • mysterious
  • the result of divine wrath
  • a plot device
  • ironic

So whether you’re killing a character or just making them sick, think about the symbolism it could imply.

There are lots of diseases! Choose one that gives your story an added punch!

Have fun infecting your characters!

Related Links:  Rock Your WritingSymbolism & more symbols;
Click  Amazon link for novels.

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Character Names

You have a great idea for a story!

Now you just have to give those characters names!

Name them with purpose!

Names are important! Why?



A name can:
  • identify 1) personality; 2) temperament; 3) a physical trait; or 4) a character flaw or strength.
  • be symbolic for theme or plot
  • reference or be an allusion to a well-known literary character, famous person, or mythical figure. For example: If you name a character Daisy many readers will immediately think of the ditsy socialite in Great Gatsby
  • foreshadow a character’s troubles or triumphs
  • be ironic. For example: Naming a reckless character Prudence.
  • poke fun or satirize the character’s profession, personality, social status, proclivities etc. For example in The Crying of Lot 49, Thomas Pynchon gives his characters the following names: Oedipa Maas, Mucho Maas,Pierce Inverarity,Mike Fallopian,Many di Presso, Randolph Driblette, Clayton Chiclitz, Dr. Hilarius, Stanley Koteks, Emory Bortz, Ghengis Cohen
  • Names act subliminally on readers
  • Beware of androgynous names like Lee, Pat, Kelly, or Chris unless you’re revealing some aspect about the character. (Remember that funny shtick on Saturday Night Live about Pat–whose coworkers could never determine Pat’s gender?)
  • Beware of cliche names fraught with stereotype or symbolism. Examples are: Barbie, Daisy, Lance, Jane, Peter—which may refer to Peter Pan, Apostle Peter, or the male body part—or Dick—jerk or player or both.
  • My go-to site is organized by  gender, culture, or specialized categories. It provides the name’s meaning and origin.20,000 names.com
In  Merkabah Series, the protagonist is named Daphne after the mythological huntress. In the Greek myth her father turns her into a tree as a way to escape the sexual attentions of Zeus. The tree she turns into—a laurel tree—is also rife with symbolism. Daphne’s sister Rose is voluptuous but has a thorny temperament. Her other sister, Ivy, much like the plant, takes over if left unchecked.
Naming characters is fun!
 In the historical fiction The Emperor’s Assassin  (in final edits), I use Greek and Roman. To avoid name confusion—those names can be tricky—I made sure each name began with a different letter.
Of course, if you want your readers to confuse the characters because of a specific plot issue by all means have at it!
Have fun naming your characters!
 Related Links:  Rock Your WritingSymbolism; Click HERE for Amazon link.

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