This morning over toast and OJ, my son told me about a book they’ve been reading in class. On the surface, it’s a story about a donkey who finds a magic orange marble and uses it to change into other things, and to change the world around him. But the unfortunate donkey accidentally morphs himself into a rock and becomes stuck that way. My son’s teacher explained that there is a second story behind the scenes, the marble being a metaphor for the prescription drugs the author’s son became addicted to.
As a rule, books are not a popular topic of conversation at my house. If pressed, my son will offer a plot rundown or give me some of the action-packed highlights, complete with sound effects. But this simple story about a talking donkey got his attention, because of the symbolism. Because there’s something more to it than what’s on the surface, and that deeper meaning makes the story infinitely more satisfying. I remember reading Billy Budd in high school, and listening to my teacher’s discussion of how Billy might be a metaphor for Jesus, and how this explained the profound effect his death had on the other characters. I remember feeling as though someone had given me a golden key.
My son is off to school now and I am back to work on my synopsis, reading my editor’s notes and wondering what it all means. What’s the orange marble here. Where’s the golden key.
What are you really writing about?