I think we can all recognize this photo as Michelle Obama at President Joseph Biden's inauguration. I was actually looking for a meme that I had seen on the Internet, with Mrs. Obama wearing this outfit and carrying a Jedi-type laser sword in her hand. Unfortunately, I could not find it. At any rate, I knew that Michelle Obama would be THE person to use as an example of showing symbolism in our characters.
As writers, we paint pictures with words. Our characters come to life through our words. Pretending that we know nothing of her background as a lawyer, mother, wife, or former FLOTUS, what can we see in this literal picture? She is conversant with COVID rules/regulations and follows them. Looking at her hair, we know that she takes care of herself. She is tall, and she stands tall. She can wear clothes that make a statement without having the clothes walk in the door before she does. Her belt buckle makes a subtle fashion statement, as does the length of her coat. This lady personifies power in subtle ways. Taken together, all of these symbols tell us that in a story her character has strength, integrity, and a boatload of self-confidence. And she is wise - she would know the right people.
Symbolism in writing allows us to present a complex picture of an individual character. It can be the small things - the colors they wear, the movies they watch, the style of furniture in their home, the type of food they eat, where they work, or where they went to school. Symbolism can be a theme that runs through a story - my immediate thought as a mystery writer is that this theme can help leave a trail of clues as to what happened, who did it, and why.
Symbolism can be the thread that holds our stories together!
(c) January 2021 Bonnie Cehovet
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