A Three-fold Struggle: Symbolic Significance in a Story

In literature, a motif is a recurring element that has symbolic significance in a story. Through its repetition, a motif can help produce other narrative aspects such as theme or mood. In THE STONE OF EBENEZER, we see Nature coping with the same 51JU0NxzPNLcrisis that our main character must face—it represents the contrast between the world God created and the world marred by man.

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As they journeyed through the mountain pass, the cavalcade crested yet another hill. Below lay a lush valley full of orchards. The sweet fragrance of apple blossoms rose to meet them. A gentle breeze lifted pale pink petals into the air, twirling blossoms around the party, teasing the men until the flowers showered down like snow upon the mountain.

Now that is a pretty sight, thought Nagad as he took in a deep breath, savoring the smell of peace and beauty. And he wondered at the contrast between this loveliness and the horror of battle. How could the two reside in the same realm? Truly, Yahweh had created the world in beauty. Man it was who marred the land with war, tearing the very foundation of the earth asunder with the rampage of contention and rage. Yet the quest toward battle continued ever onward against the backdrop of God’s landscape. (pg. 23-34)

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One of the main themes that runs through THE STONE OF EBENEZER is Revenge vs Forgiveness. The narrative speaks to the motives that drive what one does in order to come to terms with loss and trauma. Battle is used as a metaphor for personal struggle.

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Dominating the landscape, across the undulating ground, Nagad beheld various shades of yellow and crimson, short-lived flowers of summer, fluttering in the soft morning breeze. The smell of spring, of the uncertain glory, hung in the air, a variant wave of freshness faintly perceived, coming with the distant scent of apples wafting up from the golden blooms of the crown daisy. Breathing in the smell of the field, the green lap of the vernal season beckoned from sleep and issued forth a flood of memories of youth and peaceful times, of white linen robes and youthful love, and the soft laughter of a virgin.

Transfixed by the flowery field, by the scarlet crowfoot residing close to the ground, each with a single stem that terminated in one ruby flower, and the gilded display of the crown daisy towering over the crimson carpet, Nagad thought: how like a flower we are. We come forth and then we are cut down and fade; as a shadow we do flee, lost in the dark of night, and continue not. Of neither do we make much account, for neither can bear our confidence, for all wither and are gone.

“At the end of day, we shall be lifted up,” Nagad spoke under his breath as he raised his sword before his face. “Though the way be long and hard, we will endure.”

Tiphcar, as he displayed his blade before the readied troops, exclaimed in a loud voice, “New is the dawn before us! Now is the hour that the Lord will be glorified! If God be for us, who can stand against us!”

And there, between Mizpah and Shen, the Philistines came rushing toward them in great number, hastening unto their own fate. The vision of the heavily armored and highly trained Philistines moving forward in tight formation sent fear into the hearts of the Hebrew lines. Yet, through the knee-high stems of the crown daisy, trudging through the bushy display of glorious yellow heads, the Israelites marched onward, increasing their pace until they surged forth in swiftness of speed.

Across the expanse they sprung, as lodestones drawn by an unseen attraction, which urged them onward. Colliding, the opposing lines recoiled, the violent concussion of the forceful impact sending men back a step in a carom of clashing colors. Trampled underfoot by the myriad of sandaled feet, by the forward thrust of the rushing troops, the scarlet flowers were soon crushed and covered in the crimson stream of life’s hemal nectar. As a wave strikes a boat amidships, the soldiers dashed against each other dealing deadly blow upon deadly blow. In contention they strove to obtain what the other possessed, but which only one could hold. (pg. 255-256)

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In this scene, flowers are used to illustrate the drama of the battlefield, foreshadowing what is to come for the men fighting upon plain. Another motif is weather—the weather of the world—literally and figuratively—reflects the action and tension within the story. As nations erupt, so too, the sky ruptures in conflict.

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Thunder sounded overhead as lightning streaked across the darkening sky. Rain came down in sheets, driven with great force by the west wind, as the thundercloud burst open, the heavens rent, suddenly violent, issuing forth a forcible storm. The silent expanse of nature, whose bowels gave way, ruptured with tumultuous agitation, the dreadful fury of the tempest amid fitful bursts of wind.

The road became impassible as the route quickly turned into a sea of mud. The Ark threatened to topple as the soldiers fought to keep their footing on the slippery roadway. A breach in the lines formed as the company stood leaning into the wind, fixed firm against the storm, yet no progress made toward their destination. Bludgeoned by sound, the roar of the driving rain and wind, accompanied by the crash of thunder, obstructed the exchange of words.

“Sar, dark is coming on fast, and we are surrounded by the tormented terrain,” yelled out Phicol. “We will never reach Ekron by nightfall. The way is too difficult.”

With sound radiating through time, notes rising then lost to decay, Caphtor retorted above the thunder’s bend with dreadful voice uttering violent denunciations, oracles severe, as the storm grew more feral. The internal pressure of nature mounted a crack of thunder as though the fissure of doom rent forth with a terrible fulmination, accompanied by the intense display of light, discharging upon the atmosphere with violent exertion. Unable to control the instinct, soldiers dropped where they were, ducking with arms raised to protect their eyes from the dreadful display.

“Sar,” called out Phicol.

“Fall out,” bellowed Caphtor. “We go no farther; make ready camp.”

Amidst a thicket of storax trees, the company of men set up camp with great difficulty. Tents were torn by the terrible tempest, supplies flung about in harried havoc, the battle for dominance over the tent spike continued into the darkness. The rush of the angry wind continued through the night as the sky flew apart and then collided with a loud explosion that shook the foundations of the earth. (pg. 176-177)

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It is a three-fold struggle:

The conflict is an immortal struggle—a world ruled by the gods

The Philistine god—Baal vs the Hebrew God—Yahweh

A national struggle

The Philistine nation vs The Israelite nation

A personal struggle

The Philistine soldier Ekwesh vs the Hebrew soldier Nagad

The battle is brutal; the way is tough. We all face battles in this life, whether physical, emotional, or spiritual, and these battles are brutal, even as the conflicts are within THE STONE OF EBENEZER. And like our hero, we must push through the fight. This is the true sense of an epic journey, a journey that leads toward resolution.

May all your trials bring you to a place of peace.

~ Susan

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The First Sentence: Setting the Stage

It always begins with the first sentence—this opening line is of utmost importance to a novel, for it sets the stage for the entire book. The initial impact is vital in order to tantalize the reader into staying for the entire chapter. At this point, details are not important. A question must be posed, confusion instigated, an air of mystery, or some item of fancy that leads the audience to want to know more.first-lines

I find it interesting to look into the first sentence of different books. Of course there are some pretty famous first lines:

  • Call me Ishmael. —Herman Melville, Moby-Dick (1851)
  • I am an invisible man. —Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)
  • You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter. —Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885)

It is a tricky business writing that first line. Many a writer sit dumbfounded with that blank page starring coldly at them, unable to pen those allusive opening words. The trick is to just start. Write something down—anything. Once the story unfolds, then go back and rework that opening line.

This sentence is the beginning of a relationship you hope to build with your audience. Work it, rework it, until you give the reader a line that says, “Come and stay awhile; I am worth your time.”

Yet more can be revealed within those first few words than may be initially evident. There is value in examining on a deeper level.

What does the first sentence of my novel, THE STONE OF EBENEZER, tell the reader?

Let’s take a look:

The sun stood at its full height over the once lush valley, laid to ruin by the ravages of war, now a barren wasteland littered with corpses and blood-soaked earth.

What do you see? What do you feel?

If you look deeply into the folds of this sentence, you find a field of contrasts:

light—dark                 lush—ruin

warm—cold                 life—death

Now look further; where does the story begin?

The first sentence starts in the middle of the action. So we ask, what has happened to lead to this event?

And as you read further, it is evident that a deep history resides prior to the opening of this novel. The first sentence may begin your book, but it is not the start of your story. Your reader has entered the novel at this point, but does not yet know how they got to this place in time.

This opening line provides the reader with not only what has already occurred,

(the sun stood at its full height over the once lush valley)

but with a crisis that has changed the scene; life has grown barren and cold

(laid to ruin by the ravages of war, now a barren wasteland littered with corpses and blood-soaked earth).

Hope and beauty, barrenness and despair—all within the same plain.

Opening lines can be complex or a few well-placed words that open a floodgate of questions. So here is your opportunity to tantalize us with your first lines.

In the comments below, share the first sentence of your latest book. Let us see what can be revealed within the opening lines of your story.

 

~ Susan