I recently finished reading the Nobel Prize winner  José Saramago’s Death with Interruptions. It fascinated me in countless ways: the style uniqueness, easy flow, ideas represented, underlying themes, references.

What’s so special about it? Well, it’s an allegorical story about what could happen if people suddenly stopped dying. Straight and simple, and yet complicated.

Writing Alegories

Photo by Harry Sherman

It’s been some time since I last read an allegory by a modern author. Have you noticed that writers stopped writing them as much?

Perhaps the explanation for this lies in that earlier writers had to mask their ideas under metaphorical and allegorical representation because of the harsh government regimes. Maybe exactly this limitation made them more creative? Food for thought, for sure.

As for allegory, it is a literary genre concerned about principals and ideas represented abstractly. So how do you go about it? Consider these basic steps towards writing one:

1. It’s All Symbolic

An allegory is a symbol of your idea. What this means in practice is that your story is just a cover-up for the theme you’re representing; a surface story for the primary one.

This gives you huge freedom in how you decide to represent your topic. It can be fantastical or very down-to-earth, eccentric or with everyday characters – completely your choice. You can set your story in New York, implying the life in any metropolitan city around the world.

2. Carefully Plan Your Characters

Each character in an allegory serves to represent an underlying element to your theme; an archetype if you will. This means that you need to have a reason for introducing a character or a figure, since the reader is expected to interpret the whole story and find what it means.

The same holds for the whole action that happens in the story. It should indicate something, not just push the story forward.

3. Leave Clues

Not underestimating your readers or anything, but you’ll be expected to leave clues in your story for easier grasping. Some use irony; others metaphors and various references. They can be subtle clues; no need to explain yourself, just make sure they’re there to be found.

The distinctive characteristic about allegories is that they have a universal application; a collective human issue represented through a unique story. Very literary, indeed.

Do you find allegories interesting? What tips do you have for writing one?

PRACTICE

For fifteen minutes write allegorically about anything. It can be about human’s permanent incomprehension of the devastation of war, about the trickiness of love or any topic you’re passionate about. How will you represent this idea in a story in a cover-up fashion?

When you’re done, post your practice in the comments. As usual, support others’ practices.

Sophie Novak
Sophie Novak
Sophie Novak is an ultimate daydreamer and curious soul, who can be found either translating or reading at any time of day.
She originally comes from the sunny heart of the Balkans, Macedonia, and currently lives in the UK. You can follow her blog and connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.