The series on sentence structures taught me something important about myself—I don’t like sentence structures. In thinking about what direction I should take this forum next, I decided that it would be good to go back to its origins, several years ago. My intention then was to help FaithWriters to become more well-rounded, informed writers, and I still think that’s a good goal. Also, many of my original lessons were lost in the Great Forums Crash.
With that in mind, and armed with a list of literary terms, I’m going to start at A and head toward Z, with a few digressions now and then for terms that should be taught together. Some of these will be aimed toward prose writers, and some for poets. You may not be able to incorporate all of these into your writing for the challenge (or other writing), but I hope you’ll learn something interesting each week.
So. Here’s the first term: ALLEGORY.
is a piece of writing in which the characters and the events have symbolic meanings. Often, the characters represent spiritual, moral, philosophical, or political concepts. It’s common (but not absolutely necessary) for an allegory to feature elements of fantasy: talking animals, unearthly locations and the like.
However, not every story with fantasy elements or talking animals is an allegory. The distinction is that in an allegory, these elements have symbolic meaning. Also, allegories should not be confused with children's literature, which also may feature fantasy and talking animals. The audience for an allegory is adults, who will be able to understand the symbolism and appreciate the take-away lesson. Allegories should not be written like fairy tales.
You may be familiar with C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia
. Although Lewis disliked referring to those books as allegorical, they fit the definition. Aslan is symbolic of Christ, many of the events of The Magician’s Nephew
correspond with the biblical creation account, and many of the events of The Last Battle
correspond with the book of Revelation. Other events throughout the series have counterparts in the Bible or in the life of a Christian. There’s not a one-to-one correspondence, though—not everything in Narnia has a counterpoint in Christendom.
If you ever had to read George Orwell’s Animal Farm
, you’ll remember its talking animals and its obvious political agenda.
John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress
follows the path of a character named Christian as he travels to the Celestial City. Along the way, he encounters places like The Slough of Despond and the Hill of Difficulty, and characters like Mr. Worldly Wiseman.
Recently, The Shack
, by William P. Young, was an allegory that reached the top of the best-selling charts. Love it or hate it, you can’t deny that a Christian allegory had a huge impact in the publishing world and that it was read by many, many non-Christians.
Why is it important to have an understanding of allegory? I can think of several reasons:
1. It will help you to be a better reader. If you know ahead of time that the novel or short story you’re about to read is an allegory, you can read more critically, working to determine the symbolic meanings of the characters and the events you encounter. If you don’t know ahead of time, you’ll be delighted at the aha!
moment when you realize that a symbolic character has a counterpoint in the real world.
2. It will help you to be a better writer. Not too many people write allegory, so an exercise in writing allegorically will stretch you as a writer. You want to tread softly—your symbolism should not be heavy-handed or obvious; neither should it be so thin as to be un-figure-out-able. Get creative with your characters—you can make them fantastical, outrageous, ridiculous, exaggerated.
3. If you write allegory for the Writing Challenge, your writing is likely to stand out; it’s not a category of writing that we frequently get.
4. Writing allegory is a painless and non-preachy way to convey spiritual truth to non-Christians. In fact, if a non-Christian reader experiences that aha! moment when reading an allegory, it’s likely to stick with him, while he might have quit reading a more straightforward piece at the first mention of God.
When I was writing for the challenge, I wrote a few allegorical pieces, and they were always great fun to write. I’m going to link to them here—not because my writing is any better than anyone else’s
, but because I’m familiar with my own work, and could find them quickly. If you’ve written an allegory and you want to link to it, feel free to do so in a response to this post.
I’ve linked to these so that you can read a few quick allegories—especially if this is a newish concept for you and you don’t want to commit to a full-length novel (or a whole set of them!).FlamesLance Goodbody, Lifeguard Extraordinaire
(If you read some of the comments to this one, you'll see that I probably did a poor job, because clearly some commentators took it literally.)Alfie Sells a WidgetHOMEWORK:
You have several choices this week. Choose one (or more) and respond on this thread. I’ll respond to every commenter as quickly as I can.
1. Read one or more of the linked stories. They all have the same theme, but approached in different ways. Comment on the use of symbolism, and why you think allegory was effective.
2. Tell about another allegory that I didn’t mention here. What were the allegorical elements?
3. Tell why you like (or do not like) to read allegory. OR tell why you like (or do not like) to write allegory.
4. If you’ve written an allegory for the challenge, link to it, and tell why you used allegory for that week’s topic.
5. Ask a question, comment on something I’ve said, correct me, or just toss something out for us to consider.
6. Write a short allegorical story (no more than 200 words) or the first few paragraphs of a larger one, and post it here for critique.
By the way, if you’re new to this forum, the homework is entirely optional—but I’d love to hear from you. I promise I won’t be a mean old teacher-with-a-ruler. I’ll do everything I can to answer your questions and encourage you in your writing—and if I don’t know an answer (happens all the time), I’ll work hard to find it. Don’t hesitate to jump in. No one is judging you here (unless you ask for it).
Also, if you read this forum, but are shy about contributing, would you please just check in with an "I'm here" message? I just want to know if anyone's out there besides my loyal dozen or so.