Writers’ Workshop: The Symbolism in the First Snow

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snow day

“I would like to compliment Johnny on an unexpected phrase that was, actually, kind of dark. When your narrator said, ‘I had this desire to kill,’ I was like disturbed but intrigued,” said Paul.

“Yeah, I  know. Dark. I like exploring the dark side in my fantasy stories. Thank you,” Johnny said to Paul.

“Darkness. Death. Like winter coming. Everything is dead and dying,” said Paul. “See? It’s snowing.”

Friday means Story Time in our seventh-grade writing class.  Every Friday five students share any piece of original writing they wish (something “finished” or in-progress) in front of the class surrounded by twinkle lights; two student-hosts facilitate the speaking roster and the post-speaking compliments like the one Paul gave to Johnny.

Our classroom has a wall of windows, and as Paul said “snowing,” 30 sets of eyes turned toward the windows to gaze at the white specks drifting toward us as if on cue. Today was the first snow of the year on this November tenth in the Chicagoland area. A week ago, I was opening windows to keep from sweating, and today, I opened a window to catch some snowflakes and smell winter.

Students kneeled on their chairs to catch a glimpse and then glided closer to the window to gaze at the spectacle as if in a daze. I felt like this was a moment we were having, sharing the first snow of the year. I just glided among the students observing their expressions and listening in on their whispers. Then, I had a thought about Johnny’s piece and what Paul said.

“Glad we could share this first snow together,” I said working my way over to Johnny and Paul. “You know, Paul, you made a comment that is quite relevant to our work here — the connection between weather and characters’ internal struggles or secrets. Have you noticed in the stories you read how the authors set the darker parts of a story in winter? Winter tends to symbolize the death of plants, the ground hardening, the air chilling.  This is could be the part of the story when a character is depressed, sad, losing hope. Then, later, when the character gets better, realizes something profound, figures out how to deal with an issue — well, it is springtime. Seedlings poke their stems up from the now softer earth; the air has that fresh rain smell.  There is hope. But, I am wondering, is that interesting? What might be more interesting?”

“Something unexpected,” said Paul.

“Right. So, in your story, Johnny, I am not sure you mentioned the weather or time of year. One might expect it to be winter as your narrator is feeling dark, but if you set the story in spring, your character could either be coming alive as in discovering his true self or, something unexpected. He’s feeling dark inside as the world is coming alive. You could use setting to mirror the nature of your character or to reflect it back as a source of contrast.”

At this point, almost all thirty students were standing around me, in part because I was standing near the window with the beautiful snow framing my lesson. Essentially, Johnny, Paul, and I were having this writerly conversation, but I could see the stories being written behind the eyes of these writers gazing at the falling snowflakes wondering if these specks of white represent the ending, the beginning, or maybe just something beautiful.

Or maybe they are imagining a snow day in the near future.