Writing and Meaning

Discussion in 'Make It So' started by tickingnectarine, Nov 29, 2018.

  1. So. I want to write, but I have a problem.

    One of the things that consistently holds me back when it comes to writing is fear that I won't measure up to other authors, and one of the things I know I can't do well yet is fill my stories with meaning.

    Two main examples of media I enjoy that are like this are Homestuck and Steven Universe. In these stories, everything means something. The way characters move, the way they talk, an offhand joke about a book being heavy enough to kill a cat, a commercial jingle about ice cream sandwiches. Everything means something else, nothing is only surface-deep.

    How do I learn how to DO that?

    (also, if this should be moved to General Advice, that's fine)
  2. hyrax

    hyrax we'll ride 'till the planets collide

    so, one thing-- it's not true that absolutely everything in Homestuck and SU have meaning, or that that meaning was intended from minute 1.

    take character design elements in SU, for example. Garnet having 2 gems and 3 eyes definitely implied she was a fusion long before that was revealed, as many fans speculated-- those were story choices that imparted meaning. but other things, like the fact that Sapphire has colored irises and Ruby doesn't, or Onion's lack of ears, were similarly speculated on by fans before being confirmed by the Crewniverse that, nope, those are just aesthetic choices with no story significance.

    and Homestuck became a crazy web of connections built on in-jokes and internal references, but it definitely did not start out that way. lots of things gained meaning later, retroactively. like the connection between kids' pesterchum handles and DNA. Hussie noticed later on that the abbreviations of everyone's handle except John's lined up with DNA base pairs... so he wrote a flashback scene where it's confirmed that John's old handle was also a base pair. But that was a coincidence that he decided to expand on.

    (i would honestly LOVE to know how much of Homestuck was planned in advance and how much of it was built as it went, because Hussie is a mad genius and it's hard to tell. but i do know the pesterchum handle thing was a retroactive decision.)

    a lot of the writing process is like that Wallace and Gromit gif of laying train tracks in front of the moving train, especially when writing episodic stuff. that level of attention to detail is easier in a novel or something like that, which isn't released until the whole thing is finished... because you have time to go back and read and re-read and re-re-read, and notice connections and references that you didn't see before, and expand on earlier stuff that took on greater significance later, etc.
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  3. Kay5

    Kay5 the most glorious spoon

    In my experience, meaning either comes from a type of symbolism that you decide upon before you start writing (i.e. in the planning stages) where certain objects/elements/turns of phrase can appear pretty early on in the writing, but will hold more significance later on. This tends to work best with Big things that are either backstory or plot relevant.
    An SU example would be [spoilers for seasons 4 and 5] Bismuth talking about Rose's sword being able to cut through a gem's form without damaging the gem. At the time it was meant to be more of an off-hand comment that maybe emphasised Rose's pacifistic nature, but there was more meaning behind it when it turned out to be an important plot piece about how Rose didn't kill Pink Diamond.

    Otherwise... most meaning comes from later drafts. Once you've already hammered out the plot and character development and all of that stuff, it's a lot easier to slip in small hints as to what's going to happen, or things that will be referenced later on, or emphasise certain elements of the story that carry weight later on. Basically, it's easier to build a recurring theme once you already know what you're working with.

    The more drafts and planning you do, the more advanced and interweaving your story has the ability to become
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  4. shellebelle

    shellebelle New Member

    as you write you will come upon meaning for things you'd written before. You won't necessarily intend it but sometimes it pops up! Also don't forget that we live in a world of culture, in-jokes, symbolism and references. You will write things and then read something at a later time that makes you go "OMG THIS MEANS THAT i KNEW IT NOW I CAN DO THIS, AND THIS And, this and this... " Sometimes...symbolism just happens.
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  5. Astrodynamicist

    Astrodynamicist Adequate Potato Goblin

    Like other folks are saying, I think a lot of that comes with looking back over drafts/earlier installments later and strengthening potential connections.

    FWIW - in one of my creative writing classes, we talked about how to successfully write dialogue with subtext (like, characters shouldn't just talk about the plot or their feelings straight out, most people don't do that irl, etc etc whatever), and the professor suggested as an exercise when working on a script to first write the scene where everything *is* totally surface level, and then rewrite it as you figure out what is going on in the scene and how to bury those things in subtext.

    So yeah. You'll get there! It's all practice and revision, like anything else in writing. I do totally dig that fear, too, though - I fall into that myself a lot.
  6. Can we bring this up again? Anyone else have something to add? Feeling frustrated again.
  7. Kay5

    Kay5 the most glorious spoon

    What are you frustrated with? It might be worth talking out the specifics of the thing you're writing, and potential places where symbolism might be inserted or played up.

    Though, if anyone else has any more advice on other ways to add meaning as you go along, I'd genuinely love to hear it
  8. What I’m writing, right now, is fan fiction, which despite being amateur fiction makes the problem worse because I’m comparing it to the source material. In Steven Universe, (almost) everything has a reason behind it- from the obvious things like Garnet having three eyes and two gems before it was revealed she was a fusion, to the Peedee/PD comparison, to the zircons having monocles being a reference to lesbian history. Meanwhile, I’m making a dozen OCs and most of their design process is either “this is how this class of Gem appears in canon” or “it looks cool.” Which is stupid in comparison.

    And the plot itself is very basic, it’s not a big important story about self discovery and acceptance, it’s just. “The bad guy is trying to destroy the crystal gems, we have to stop her.” Plus one OC discovering freedom on earth.

    I question why I even bother making my own stories when better, more meaningful ones already exist.
  9. Kay5

    Kay5 the most glorious spoon

    Simple plots can sometimes be the best places to start, the issue is that they don't always have the little intricacies that lend themselves to adding in a bunch of symbolism. But for fanfic? That's entirely okay. It sounds like you've got a story that still fits really well into the SU universe, especially with a new gem discovering freedom. That sounds pretty damn meaningful to me.

    Write because you want to tell these stories. No one can tell your story but you. Comparing yourself to others isn't going to do anything but make yourself feel bad, and I promise you that people will still adore your writing even if they've read other stuff. Have you seen the whole two cakes thing around? Basically, that.

    As far as adding more symbolism goes though, maybe try and pick a recurring theme or object or colour that keeps popping up in your story. Maybe even work it into the designs of your gem OCs if that's possible (think like how basically all homeworld gems have a diamond on their clothes, but the CGs have a star. It's simple, but it really makes an impact when you're meeting a new gem). And if you can find a way to change it up when certain plot twists happen? Or when the gem that stays on Earth decides to stay? Then I promise that your readers will love it.
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  10. ...does anyone wanna hear about my OCs?
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  11. jacktrash

    jacktrash spherical sockbox

    i'm not much into SU, so i wouldn't appreciate your oc's as much as they deserve, but i swear to you that 'looks cool' is an EXCELLENT starting point for character design.

    my current original project, 'stalemate', is HUGE, but it started out as just a handful of in-jokes between me and seebs about how i'm an evil overlord and they're a paladin but we're married. seebs saying "it shall be as you command, dread lord," to mean "yes, dear." me saying, "you have pleased me, minion," when one of the cats does something cute. seebs referring to debugging code as smiting evil. just goofing on a running gag, you know? but we came up with little dialogues like for a gag strip, and it was fun to play with so it kept growing, and pretty soon i was like, "you know, i bet i could make a novel out of this" -- and now i've got a fairly large cast of characters all with backstories and motivations and so on. that's how it happens, it grows organically as you play with it.

    don't compare your first draft to someone else's final draft. especially don't compare first drafts of your early works to a professional's most famous completed work. that's like a sculptor comparing their roughed-in block to michelangelo's david. don't do it, friend.

    as for symbolism, that also grows organically, but you can help it along by keeping the character in mind as you research and collect -- idk what to call it, inspirations? mood material? -- for the work.

    rambling example: i'd decided casimir is an arctic shaman and therefore uses fly agaric mushrooms, and i was researching how various arctic cultures use those, and happened upon some discussions of women's water rituals in the iron age, having to do with caves and underground streams and water as a gate to the underworld, which i thought were very cool. while shamans in some arctic cultures are exclusively male, a few are exclusively female, and i'd already planned that casimir's mother was the tribe's shaman and his elder sister was the one being properly trained, and then she'd taught him her own lessons right after, because he hero-worshipped her. so he's already very connected to women's magic, and i liked the idea of him being a gender rebel on a level that people outside his culture wouldn't even see. he's muscular and tough and very violent, loud, takes up space, confident and pushy -- but his magic is women's magic. his connection to the culture is a woman's connection. and women's magic lives in the womb of the earth, in these northern cultures.

    gareth, on the other hand, was raised on ships, climbing the rigging and such, and learned his magic in the towers of a great city, and then on a high mountain among bamboo forests. everything about him goes UP. and that just came from things like, his mother is a merchant prince from fantasy-east-africa, from a desert people, traveling the world on tall ships, and then i just felt like a misty celestial-dragon-type fantasy-china mountain was the perfect place to put the final touches on a life mage.

    but then i stepped back and went... OH. the 'evil' one is underground-themed, and the 'good' one is sky-themed. that's PERFECT.

    so you see, i didn't design it like that from the start. but i had my characters in mind while i rummaged through inspiration and history, and the things that stuck to them turned out to give them some really solid meaning.
    Last edited: Aug 6, 2019
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