Tuesday, January 26, 2010

When Freaky Things Happen In Your Writing

Okay, so all writers know that to make a story have a greater meaning or resonance you need to go beyond the surface. It's not always necessary but sometime it's good to have a reason or a symbolic meaning behind a name or a place to give it added significance in a story. The reader may never find out about the 'behind the scenes' meaning but you as a writer know, and that helps you create a more layered, textured story.

I have to admit that I don't always put those meanings or symbols in on the first go round. I'll pick a name because I like it or sometimes I will research its meaning to see if it fits with the story's themes. But many times, the themes evolve as I write the story. So sometimes I'll go back and change something because I've learned more about my story as I've written it and I want a particular scene or character or place to represent those themes more accurately. But sometimes - and this is where the freakiness comes in - I'll have written a name or described a place with no more thought or knowledge beyond, "Yeah, that name is good enough" or "yeah, I'll have them meet in a school yard not a parking lot". I'll find out later that the meaning of the name or significance of the place setting is almost exactly symbolic of the larger theme or themes of the book I'm trying to convey. Let me give you an example.

As I was going going through the copy edits on ILLEGALLY BLONDE I became totally paranoid about Portuguese language references and names and such. An abandoned church plays a big part of the setting where my heroine first meets the hero, and where she comes to many realizations about who she is and what she wants for her future. I named the church Igreja de Santa Ines. I just made the name up. At the first draft writing stage I didn't even know if a Santa Ines even actually existed. Then, as I was going through copy edits, I thought I probably should name a church after a real saint. That's kinda important, right? So I googled Santa Ines and this is what I found:

Saint Agnes is the patron saint of young girls; folk custom called for them to practice rituals on Saint Agnes' Eve (20–21 January) with a view to discovering their future husbands. This superstition has been immortalised in John Keats's poem, "The Eve of Saint Agnes."

Agnes is represented in art as a young blonde girl in robes, holding a palm branch in her hand and a lamb at her feet or in her arms.

Agnes suffered martyrdom at the age of twelve or thirteen during the reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletian, on January 21, 304. The Prefect Sempronius wished Agnes to marry his son, and on Agnes'refusal he condemned her to death. As Roman law did not permit the execution of virgins, Sempronius had a naked Agnes dragged through the streets to a brothel. As she prayed, her hair grew and covered her body and protected her. When led out to die she was tied to a stake, but the bundle of wood would not burn.

Agnes is the patron saint of chastity, gardeners, girls, engaged couples,rape victims, and virgins.


Ines(Agnes)is the patron saint of young girls - Illegally Blonde is a coming of age story of a young girl.

The miracle of Agnes is her blonde hair growing to cover her body - my heroine (Lucy's) hair and her dying it a blonde colour is a huge symbol in the book - the covering up of her real self.

Lucy and the hero,Filipe, have many significant, emotional meetings at the church - Ines is the patron saint of engaged couples and folk customs say young girls can discover their future husbands on Saint Agnes' Eve.

They tried to burn Ines but the fire wouldn't light - fire is another element I have in the book related to the church and to the plot. I described the abandoned church as being burned inside.

Remember, now, I knew NOTHING about this saint's history before I used it. I just picked the name out of the blue. Yet it was the most perfect, fitting symbol to give resonance to my heroine's journey.

Like I said, sometimes writing is very, very freaky.


  1. I love it when stuff like that happens! I suppose it's possible you somehow knew about this subconsciously but either way it's pretty cool. I was just thinking how sometimes I'll just put something in my story I wasn't intending to or didn't think about and then later on find something big that relates back to it. But nothing as profound as Saint Agnes!

  2. Writer's intuition... and you have lots of it, my talented friend!

  3. Hi Lisa and thanks for dropping by! I also thought I might have somehow subconsciously read or heard about St. Agnes but honestly I knew nothing about saints. Nada. So who knows what was working to make me pick that name out of the blue!

  4. Hey, Steph! Intuition? You think? That's even freakier!

  5. Congrats on being published, or about to be. And I love when freaky things like that happen in writing. But your example is pretty freaky!

  6. That IS amazing. I've never had anything quite like that happen, but I did once meet a character of mine in the flesh: she was so much like the girl I'd written into my ms that it was quite eerie.

    My mother was a big Keats fan and could recite most of that poem. Which pretty much goes on forever.)

    (I come to you from VK's, btw...)

  7. Hi Mary! Of course I know you from Verla Kay's. Love to say Hi to fellow BB's! And if I ever ran across one of my characters in the flesh I'd probably faint. I'm paranoid that somebody will think I based a character on them.
    Thanks for stopping by (and I should definitely read that Keats poem!)

  8. Hi Laura! Thanks for dropping by and for the congrats! I'm hoping this is a freakishly fun year with many more weird (but good!) stories to share.