I’m not a big jewelry person. I like it well enough, I just don’t seem to enjoy wearing it. I have a few things. A tigers eye bracelet. A necklace with a sand timer. A few assorted stretchy bracelets. There are only three things that I wear every day. The first is a tiny yin-yang symbol, silver and about the size of a dime. This symbol means a lot to me. I think it’s the absolute truth of the universe that there is nothing bad without some good and nothing good without some bad. The second piece is my fit bit. It’s not jewelry, it’s a piece of technology. And I use it all the time. The final piece is my wedding ring. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you what this little band means to me.
These things mean a lot to me, and people who are used to seeing me every day recognize them. If I’m not wearing one of them, there’s probably a story behind why.
We can tell a lot about people based on these little accessories, these pieces of metal that we chose to attach to ourselves. In most societies, they require no explanation. A wedding band, a set of dog tags, a Star of David, a Cross. These all mean something basic about a person. They give us information and insight into who that person is.
The symbols don’t tell the whole story, of course. A set of dog tags means that the person has been in the service, or loved someone who did. It can’t tell you if they served honorably. A wedding ring means marriage, but it can’t tell you if it’s a happy marriage or not. A symbol of faith might represent one of the faithful. Or it’s just a family heirloom passed on from someone who the wearer loved.
As a writer, we can use these little symbols to show the reader our characters without telling them about them. A wedding ring, worn by a woman who is never seen with a husband raises questions. A set of dog tags worn by a man with scars on his face tells a story all by itself. A cross, scratched and dinged, hanging from the neck of a woman pointing a gun at your main character, certainly tells the reader that there’s something more to the person.
The trick is to use them carefully. You want these little symbols to tell only part of the story. You don’t want them to be a gateway into telling when you wanted to show. Here’s an example of what I mean.
Cody saw her looking at the set of dog tags, and tucked them under his shirt before she could see that they didn’t have his name.
That sets something up that you’re going to explain later. It’s a mystery to keep the reader guessing. You want to know whose name is on that dog tag, right? And why Cody is wearing them if they weren’t his?