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Write On, Wednesday: Injecting Symbolism, Part 2: Doors & Gates

By Leslie Lindsay

If you happened to catch last Wednesday’s post, then you know I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the themes that have cropped up in my WIP. Last week, it was the (now extinct) passenger piegeons that cropped up, darkening the skies of my fictional world. At the time they were written into the manuscript, I had a little knowledge of these creepy birds.

Today, it’s all about gates, doors, thresholds.

At a recent workshop in Madison, Wisconsin a fellow critiquer read an excerpt of a chapter. An old creaky gate blowing in the wind triggered a moment of weirdness for the main character who happened to be looking out her bedroom window at the time.

Another person in the group admits, “I don’t get the gate. What’s the deal with that?”

“Well…” I hemmed and hawed. “I like it.” Plus, it has something to do with the rest of the book. There’s an old gate to an orphange, which we’ll “meet” later.

The first woman said, “Oh, you’ve got to keep it; oftentimes, gates represent a bridge from one life to another. They are very symbolic.”

“They are?” I asked, mildly amazed I pulled out some symbolism without even realizing it.

“Yes. Very.”

And so the gate stays. And it has story purpose. Here are some more things I dug up regarding gates/doors/thresholds in literature, and also the human psyche.

  • According to An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Traditional Symbols, J.C. Cooper notes a guarding and protecting nature of gates, stating, “they are the protective, sheltering aspect of the Great Mother.”
  • She also goes on to confirm that they are indeed, “symbolic entrances into new worlds…entrances can be into a new life or they might represent communication between one world and another world, between the living and the dead.”
  • In yet another study of the symbolism of gates we learn: “Imprinted on the human psyche, [gates] herald the possibility of a new life, a new experience, or a new identity. They offer an opportunity for communion between different worlds: the sacred and profane, the internal and external, the subjective and objective, the visible and invisible, waking and dreaming.”
  • Not only do scholars find gates fascinating, but they make an appearance in Shirley Jackson’s classic, THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE (1959). I can only assume Ms. Jackson knew this about gates, or did her own homework before dumping them into her novel.

So, you see…there is something to my squeaky gate in Mel Dunbar’s backyard. Now, the hard job of capitalizing on that, making it even creepier, and keeping it all in mind as I plow through this manuscript. Easy? No.  Greater satisfaction? You bet.

[Fall gate/stone wall image retrieved from Fliker on 7.07.14, farm gate from drakensview.blogspot.com  on 7.6.14]

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