An allegory is an essential tool of the author who wants to convey important ideas with the least amount of words. One of my works-in-progress is a contemporary novel. I need to convey a Gothic atmosphere in this piece and yet keep the novel set squarely in the 21st century. The way I am doing this is through the use of allegory. With symbolism in mind, I try to approach writing a scene as it would be portrayed in a movie. Each conversation is an event and must advance the story.
Crafting an allegorical narrative requires planning and intention. I suggest you make an outline so that the beginning, middle, and end are clear before you begin.
An effective allegorical narrative will have a clear moral or lesson that will become apparent at the end of the essay. Even if it is not stated directly, the message will be implicit in the final resolution. You want to be sure that the ending reflects your final thought on the subject.
1. Use Symbolism
The allegory is the symbol of your idea. This means your narrative or poem conceals the true theme you’re symbolizing. In other words, you are writing a cover story that will contain the primary one.
2. Planning Your Characters Is Essential
Each character in an allegory represents an underlying element to your theme. Because the reader is expected to interpret the whole story and find what it means, no character can be introduced that does not directly pertain to and represent part of the underlying story. The moment you introduce a random character into it, your allegory devolves into chaos, and your deeper meaning is lost.
3. Planning Your Action is Essential
The arc of the scene becomes tricky. Every action is crucial–action must show something that pertains to the underlying theme, not just push the overlying story forward.
4. Insert Hints Regarding the Deeper Meaning into The Overlying Story
What that means is, you’ll be expected to leave evidence in your story for the discerning reader to grasp. Some authors have used irony and sarcasm. Others use large metaphors.
No matter what you choose, subtle clues will guide the reader to the deeper story, and you want them to catch that underlying meaning, or you wouldn’t have written it. You don’t have to explain it baldly—readers love figuring out puzzles. But you do have to make sure a trail of breadcrumbs is there for your reader to follow.
The storytelling in The Matrix movies is a brilliant example of employing heavy allegory to drive home the themes of humankind, machine, fate, and free will.
The themes are represented with heavy symbolism in the names of the characters. For instance, Neo, the protagonist’s name is a combining form (used in combination with another element to form a word) meaning New. And he is “new” in every way—naïve, and clueless.
Then, there are the two walk-ons, Choi and Dujour. They are there to buy illegal software from Neo. In French, “Choi” means choice. In restaurant talk, “Du Jour” means available and being served on this day—and that is exactly what the character named Dujour is.
Used together, Dujour and Choi form “choi du'jour,” or "Choice of the Day." This is a powerful allegory, an allusion to the power of choice within the Matrix. It points directly to the choices that Neo must make and that lead him to his destiny.
Dujour has another powerful allegory to fulfill—she bears the white rabbit tattoo. Her appearance marks the second reference to the white rabbit and is a direct allusion to Alice in Wonderland, telling Neo that nothing is what it seems.
The words used in conversations and even the androgynous clothes they wear are heavily symbolic. Everything on the set or mentioned in conversation underscores the theme, including the lighting. Inside the Matrix, the world is bathed in a green light, as if through a green-tinted lens. In the real world, the lighting is harsher, unfiltered.
In the movie, everything that appears or is said onscreen supports one of the underlying concepts. When Morpheus later asks Neo to choose between a red pill and a blue pill, he essentially offers the choice between fate and free will.
Theme is a thread that winds through the story and supports the plot. Using allegory and symbolism in the environment to subtly underscore your theme allows you to show the underlying story without resorting to an info dump.
Picture your conversations, clothing, settings, and wider environments as if they were scenes in a movie. Many scenes will have an opportunity to use an allegory that will support your story arc.
When a reader is immersed in reading, they may not notice the heavy symbolism on a conscious level. The use of allegory makes the imaginary world of the book feel real, solid, and concrete.
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Connie J. Jasperson is a published poet and the author of nine novels. Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies. A founding member of Myrddin Publishing Group, she can be found blogging regularly on both the craft of writing and art history at Life in the Realm of Fantasy.