The Writer’s Metaphorical Toolbox

At some point, almost everyone in middle or high school English class questions whether one or another author really intended all the symbolism in their novels that English teachers claim there is. Fortunately, Shannon Hale is here to insist that writers do write intentionally:

“When I’m writing, I’m not thinking about what an English class might study. I’m not thinking in words like “symbol” and “theme.” But I do take careful stock of the story. I study early drafts to see what motifs have started to occur, what ideas seem to repeat themselves naturally. Then I examine what the story needs and nurture those motifs into what an English teacher would call a theme, and I do that in order to make the story stronger, to add layers of meaning that will make the book more intriguing as well to give it an emotional connection. I am very aware of creating connections–with other works, with historical events unmentioned, with other ideas within the story. I do this all with a great deal of thought and purpose. I or another writer might be unaware of one of a reader’s personal interpretations, but that doesn’t mean we’re unaware of any allusion or motif.”

I think this is the perfect description of using writerly elements in stories. I don’t know any writers who sit down and map out each image and symbol and metaphor, but all the writers I know think about these elements as they craft their work. And all of this enhances the experience for the reader (even if the reader is then forced to write an essay about symbolism in The Great Gatsby). I’m glad to see Shannon stand up for this kind of thoughtfulness.

0 thoughts on “The Writer’s Metaphorical Toolbox

  1. kenziekay says:

    I completely agree! I had a recent discussion with a friend on this topic and we were in agreement that we didn’t think authors intentionally created symbolism/metaphors in their stories. Maybe some, but not all. And really, this makes reading a story all the more interesting! It’s a great example of how readers bring who they are to the table when they pick up a book.
    Nice post 🙂

  2. Brynn says:

    This is a great quote, I’m going to pass it on to the English teacher in my school to use with her students. It provides a lot of support for what she’s doing and that it’s not just teacher-created activities and strategies to keep students busy.

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