Your Character’s Symbol

yellow trashWell-written television has much to teach a novelist. The visual nature of its exposition reaches our brain differently.

It’s how Longmire taught me about assigning your character a symbol. It’s a concept I haven’t fully explored yet, but when it comes to Sheriff Walt Longmire, it’s been a powerful tool.

Walt hates trash. His small town deserves better, so from the first episode it’s a common scene for Walt to stop as he crosses the street to pick up some bit of trash and toss it where it belongs.

At first, it’s just Walt, picking up a gum wrapper.

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Vicarious Experience Depends on Description

photo by Bill Davenport descriptions written by masters like Chandler aren’t there so we know what a wing-back chair looks like or because the cigar smoke plays a role in the book.

Psychologically, statistically, we are conscious of less than 1% of what we experience. The other 99% goes to our unconscious, bypassing our conscious mind.

But we still experience it.

If I don’t know that your protagonist is a little chilly, or that the drapes are green, or the woman at the next table is wearing flats instead of heels, how will you connect with my unconscious, touch my memories, dredge up what I’m afraid of, or willing to fight, or fight for?

Chandler wrote great long paragraphs of what most authors would call “description.”
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