What Not to Say
I was reminded of the power of allegory. I don’t see many in the Romance genre, or not enough.
For those who don’t know, allegory is the use of fictional people, things or events to express ideas larger than those being superficially presented. A rhetorical device, it allows an author to illustrate complex ideas with broad strokes and requires the reader fill in many of the details, making all the appropriate connections between story elements. Animal Farm is a good example, or The Fisher King. To go more mainstream, some might even postulate that Sookie Stackhouse’s situation in her first book is allegorical of a smart woman being marginalized and endangered by her ability to read men, thus requiring a “supernatural” sort to truly protect and engage her heart, body, and soul…though the device probably breaks down if we go much farther.
There are many reasons an author might not want to hit an idea directly on the nose. For one, some topics feel too lurid, pedantic or emotional when addressed head-on. For another, less is sometimes more; broader strokes can make more accurate depictions, as visually illustrated by the Impressionists. And then there’s always censorship, which requires that an author speak around her meaning.
The important question here is, when it does work, why is allegory so powerful?
Because it requires that moment of personal recognition, of learning. It requires the author be deft, concise, and brilliant. It requires the author see the core of an idea and convey that—and the reader to supply the final piece of the puzzle. Breaking that code engages the mind in a way that is anything but passive. It’s yet another layer of “show don’t tell,” which is a maxim that seems to exist on every level of successful creativity.
I’ll leave you with an assignment. Think up something you want to say, then write a story that says nothing about that but conveys it anyway.
If it works, it’ll be the best thing you ever wrote.