Friday, November 7, 2014

Using Nature to Enhance Your Theme

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes trilogy. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and a focus on youth and young adult ministry. For more about Shan, check out her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

It's FRIDAY again! Confetti and cupcakes for everyone! Of course, you'll have to go in search of your own, but still, we made it to the end of the week and I think treats are in order.

On that note, I need to announce the winner of last week's giveaway. To refresh, we're giving away a set of Jenny Lundquist's The Princess in the Opal Mask and its sequel The Opal Crown. Drum roll, everyone . . . 

And the winner is Tiffany! 

Now, I know what you're thinking. There are a zillion Tiffanys out there, but that's the only name that was provided on the entry. I went ahead and emailed this specific Tiffany, so if it's you PUH-LEASE email me back!

Okay, now that that's all done, let's talk writing.

I thought I'd just drag you all into my head for a bit if that's okay. I've been thinking a lot about one of my favorite stories. William Shakespeare's Hamlet. It's not a novel, but a play and there's much to be learned from plays.

My sophomore English teacher is the one who got me hooked on Hamlet. He spent one of his lessons talking about the garden theme that's woven through the story. In Hamlet's first soliloquy he says of the world, "'Tis an unweeded garden that grows to seed. Things rank and gross in nature possess it merely."

Throughout the production, several characters join Hamlet in the colorful use of garden terminology. From Ophelia to Laertes, from the Queen to the Ghost of Hamlet's father, the concept of the garden is hard to miss once it's been pointed out.

And it was this one teacher and this one lesson that really opened my eyes to nature as a theme in literature. It's changed how I view books, but more importantly, it's changed how I view nature and the creation around me.

In his book, On Writing, Stephen King makes the point that we owe it to ourselves and the books we write to decide what exactly it's about. Does it have a theme? Have we made that clear to the reader? And I wonder as you view your manuscript, have you considered using nature to enhance your theme?

I don't think it's ideal to start with a theme and work from there, but I do think that once you've penned your story, it's beneficial to consider how you can use the world around your characters to sharpen your message.

What are you talking about, Shannon?

I'm glad you asked.

When we think of nature, we think of forests and oceans, we think of mountains and sunsets and all the things that were created for us to enjoy. But we also think of seasons and the inevitable dying of everything that grows. And in that death, we often find new life. We think of cycles. We think of change. We think of incremental growth and maturity. We think of seeds planted and watered and we think of weeds that can squeeze the life out of the things that are meant to nourish us.

All are such glorious themes in the hand of an author! The applications of such themes and the uses of them in your writing can help to paint a picture that will stay with a reader and bring into focus THAT THING you're trying to say.

Anyway. That's what's been going through my head lately. How about you guys?

What do you think about using nature to drive home your themes? What books come to mind when you consider this concept?

29 comments:

  1. No book comes to mind, buts a movie does - Frozen.

    I haven't really thought much about using nature, but I have used it sparingly before to make points.

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  2. I can't think of any books, but I thought of a genre- Fantasy. And Science Fiction, for that matter. could be because that's what I write :p I think that, in fantasy, you have to build the surroundings and stuff a lot. I don't know, that's just what I think XD

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  3. I can't think of any books...but I do think in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe C.S Lewis portrayed finely the distress of the Narnian people by showing a very long winter. I really communicated to me how much pain they were in, but that's just what I think :). I have never really used nature in my stories, but in one of my half-finished manuscripts there was a forest that was like heaven at day and hell at night. Not really sure if that counts...
    Thanks for the post!

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    1. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe is a great example! The long winter. Fabulous.

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    2. And your forest concept is very cool. :)

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  4. Does the Hunger Games count as an example? Technically, the "nature" in the arena was created by the Capitol, but in my mind it represents how cruel the Capitol was to the district-dwelling people.

    I'll have to think about adding in some nature-y elements in my second draft...there's actually a few things I think I can do with it to represent my theme! :) Thank you, Mrs. Dittemore!

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    1. I hadn't thought of the Hunger Games arena like that. Very interesting. I'll have to think on it more. I wish you luck with your ms.

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  5. Great post! Very interesting.

    J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings uses nature a LOT to set the mood and, I think, emphasize the theme. The destruction of nature in the demsen's of Sauron and Saruman are two examples. I still remember thee feeling inspired when Sam and Frodo saw the golden flowers on the fallen king's head.

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    1. I didn't think about The Lord of the Rings, Nightingale! Now that you mention it, it does!! I love how Tolkien describes everything in such detail. With the whole nature thing- Mordor was the first thing that came to my mind. If I remember correctly, he talked about how the land was black and such, and the sky :)

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    2. Another fabulous example. If you haven't read about Tolkien's inspiration for those novels, you should. Nature plays a big role.

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  6. I quite like that idea. A lot of metaphors usually include elements of nature. Now that I think about it, my book starts of during Spring, when they celebrate the start of a new year, and of new life (it's fantasy). But what I do realise now is that element also stands for a new life for the MC.

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    1. Good job! Yes, new life is HUGE in fiction and nature can really make that shine.

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  7. I'm too lazy to write any books that come to mind down :P

    I only just realized that nature plays an important part in the sequel to my original story.

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  8. I think I unintentionally made a theme in mine. In the beginning of the book it's fall, then after the tragedy happens in the inciting incident the first snow falls signifying change in the season, but also great change for the character.

    Stori Tori's Blog

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    1. Yes! Absolutely. It's a lovely way to signify change. And I love when I leave myself unintentional hints in my writing. If I look at them carefully they often point me in the direction I should go.

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  9. Oh, that's a very interesting thought, Shan. My first thought was actually of The Shack, which used a garden as a metaphor for a soul.

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  10. Wow. A big part of my novel is roses. The MCs name is Rose, and there is a rose that represents her life (Fantasy) and when she's supposed to die it withers. But this makes me give a whole lot more thought on expanding on that. Thanks! :)

    I can't think of any books that haven't already been mentioned off the top of my head.

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    1. Aha! I thought of one. The Series of Unfortunate Events. The weather tends to correspond to how they feel a lot. When they have to move to a new place it's rainy and gloomy.

      And the River of Time series uses a river as an analogy a lot. :)

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  11. A Song of Ice and Fire by George R R Martin was the first series that sprang to mind for me. In the book's world, seasons can last for years, and the season changes to winter as the series progresses (though the last book is going to be called A Dream of Spring).
    Very interesting idea, I'll have to think about this!

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    1. Can you believe I haven't ventured into the world of George RR Martin yet? I'll have to make that happen.

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  12. Interesting!
    Now that I think about it, nature (symbolically) crops up in a lot of stories. To use a rather obscure example -- but hey, that means it hasn't been mentioned yet! --, in "On The Run" by *pauses to google book and find author's name* Michael Coleman, which is about a thief who becomes a guide runner for a blind girl, there's a small plant that acts as a symbol for struggling with growth and change.

    And in "A Long Long Sleep" by Anna Sheehan, the MC's name is Rosalinda Fitzroy - Rose for short - the imagery of roses and briars really flesh out Rose's past and present.

    I bet I could squeeze a whole essay out of "plant symbolism" alone, lol. (But both books are more subtle than I made them sound...I swear...)

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    1. Awesome! I love that you used obscure references! Read wide, girl!

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  13. Tolkien used the Ents to kind of project two different possible outcomes of his story. The Ents and their conflict with Saruman display this. Saruman and his allies portray an age of Iron or evil. The Ents an age of plenty and freedom.

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  14. Any Tiffanys out there that think they MIGHT be the winner of the giveaway??? I emailed and haven't received a reply back.

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