How to Add Depth to Your Writing – Part 3
To add depth to writing is to add layers. The more layers you have – and the idea of different perceptions – then the more depth you create. Parts 1 and 2 looked at the general ways to add depth, but there are also more complex ways that can also work.
How often do you use simile or metaphors?
Writers often use similes without realising it, because we naturally like to compare one thing with another when describing things. You’ll spot a simile whenever the words ‘like’ or ‘as’ are used. For instance, ‘Her voice sounded like a knife on glass’, or ‘His skin tingled as though ants crawled all over him’.
Both these similes help create vivid description, because they are comparing one thing to another - in this case, the sound of someone’s voice is compared to a knife scraping across the surface of glass (which produces a high pitched, excruciating sound), and the sensation of tingling skin is compared to a horde of ants crawling all over the body.
Similes like this add those extra descriptive layers to writing by helping the reader imagine those sensations, those sounds, the colours or the feelings. They, too, add extra depth to any writing.
Another complex device is the metaphor. Most writers don’t think about these because they’re too busy focusing on the more important, meatier aspects such as characterisation and plot, and metaphors are more complicated to use, but like similes, they add those all-important extra layers to writing.
Unlike similes, however, where there a direct comparison is made, a metaphor uses a hidden, implied or indirect way of comparisons of things that wouldn’t usually be compared, in order to help explain a thought, object or idea. It does not use the word ‘like’ or ‘as’, for example: ‘She walked the tightrope of tumultuous feelings’, or ‘The rain drummed. Reflective silver ribbons shimmered and obscured her envious shadow.’
The first metaphor uses a tightrope to plant an image in the reader’s mind of the implied danger of someone’s true feelings about something or someone. The second metaphor uses silver ribbons – the woman’s tears - as a comparison to rain that cascades down a window.
A story sprinkled with deep metaphors or interesting similes can add a sense of depth to a story in ways that normal description won’t.
Symbolism is another technical literary device for those who want to give their stories greater depth. We have always associated certain colours, sounds or objects with different things, for example the colour white is a symbol of purity, the sound of the wind can be a symbol of foreboding, while the dove is a symbol of peace and so on. But we can create our own symbols in our writing to create depth and emphasis. For example, barren, gnarly trees in midwinter can symbolise the sullen, depressive mood during the cold winter months. A flock of circling birds could symbolise the fears or confusion of someone. The sound of a ticking clock might symbolise the sound of life, day after day, after day.
Symbols are everywhere. How we use them in our writing helps provide much needed brushstrokes to descriptions, which in turn lend greater depth to the story.
Along with symbolism, another technical literary device commonly used to add depth to writing is foreshadowing; the ability to indicate future events to the reader without actually revealing it.
Anything can be used to foreshadow something. Characters, dialogue, objects, sounds or colours. For instance:
‘All the flowers wilted, despite the sun.’ (Foreshadows death later in the story).
‘His blood seemed oddly dark against the pristine snow.’ (Foreshadows a tragedy/accident to come).
‘She stared at the man through the fence, stared hard as though to commit his features to her memory. She was sure she would never forget his face...’ (Foreshadows a later, dangerous meeting with this character).
The use of simile, metaphor, symbolism and foreshadowing really can help to provide depth to any story, but when coupled with description, characterisation, immediacy, emotion, conflict and different themes, the layers become colourful and interesting and tempt the reader to keep peeling away to the hidden story beneath.