Setting and Theme

As I finalize revisions on my novel, I am using tools from a Setting seminar in my writer's group to touch up some "white room" scenes I've found in the novel. The Setting seminar also inspired me to think more deeply about thematic symbols.

The magic in my Dindi series revolves around colors, with each book focusing on a particular color. So re-enforcing the color theme is one obvious approach. To add to that, and also appeal to more than one sense, I've added a taste to each color. The taste and color reflect an emotion and action, theme wise. So, for Book One, the symbols are Healing (action), Joy (emotion), yellow/gold (color) and sweetness (taste). The landscape style is "Beautiful".

In most scenes, I try to keep it subtle, but in one particular scene, a grand banquet, I lay it on thick:

In the cooking courtyard behind the High Table, out of sight of the guests, Dindi could hear Hertio introducing his guest of honor, but she resisted the urge to join the other giggling handmaidens who tried to peek at him. Instead she concentrated on her task, decorously arranging sugar loaves on a large terracotta platter. By the time she had placed the last hard, bronze-brown sugar loaf into position on top of a pyramid of similar loaves, the other handmaidens were already busy serving the guests dishes of acorn honey purée, yellowtail cutlets in saffron sauce, honey-coated walnuts and popped corn, caramelized baby onions and roasted squash slathered with butter, cinnamon and sugar.

The original version of this scene had different foods at the banquet. In this version, every dish in the meal is either sweet in taste or yellow in color.

Thinking about the theme also helped me with a scene in which the heroine contemplates suicide. I was having a hard time showing her as either depressed or despairing. I realized the reason is that (1) she is not a depressed or despairing character, so it doesn't fit, (2) she is still too young and innocent at this point in the story to really take suicide seriously, even as she melodramatically contemplates it. So I changed her motive to kill herself (by joining a faery circle and dancing to death) from despair to bliss -- she's a sort of joy junkie:

At just that moment, the morning cloud cover parted and the sky opened up over the river like a giant sunflower. The wind crooned in the pale gold reeds. She could taste the sweet dust off the cane. Despite everything, Dindi could no more hold on to her despair than she could hold water in a sieve. Her sadness, her sense of failure, did not evaporate, it simply couldn’t compete with the beauty overwhelming her. She had too much joy in her, she realized glumly – she always had. Could one die of gladness? How could one bear to taste such lovliness and not burst into dance?

It's a little tricky having a whole book themed on Sweetness & Light -- some contrast is needed to prevent cloying and boredom. The counterpoint color/taste/emotion combo is Blue/Salty/Grief, represented by the nautical enemies of the Yellow tribe. One character, grieving for his dead family, represents this stream in particular.

The following books will have other combos, such as Green/Minty, Orange/Sour, Red/Spicy, etc.