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8. Alignment of Place

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2. External Alignment

The interdependence of symbolic images, expressed in the Theory of Correspondences, asserts that an idea may be given expression in a number of symbolic forms from various "planes" of reality. Alignment means that the various forms should match the symbolic idea they represent. For example, the idea of birth can be represented by a number of elements we have discussed in Part One. Among a few of the symbols we have discussed, it can be represented by the direction of East, by the time of dawn, by the color white and by the season of Spring. The idea of death, on the other hand, can be represented by the direction of West, by the time of sunset, by the color black and by the season of Winter.

If the concept of psychological birth or death within a character was the purpose of the narrative, it would be appropriate to consider filling the story background with the above elements. To symbolize psychological birth, the narrative of the story might set the time in the hours of sunrise, in the Spring, in the East and bathe the background in white light. If the narrative was after death, then a sunset time in the Winter would be appropriate.

The above examples represent "proper alignment" because the elements which represent birth and death are clustered appropriately together. However, if the death elements were clustered under the birth idea or the birth elements under the death idea, there would be improper alignment among elements. For example, if a sunset time, in the West, the color black and Winter are used as background to show birth in a character, the narrative has much working against it to tell its story in the most powerful manner. Even if there are some mis-aligned elements mixed in, it is still difficult to bring the full power of symbolism into the story. The reader or viewer is receiving "mixed" cues.

3. External And Internal Alignment

It is important that similar symbols be clustered together so they are aligned properly in time. It is also important that there be an alignment between the main character's psychology and the elements.

Even when there is proper alignment among external place elements, there can still be mis-alignment between the place elements and the psychological elements of narrative.

Consider the alignment between a character who is in a deep depression and a time of sunrise, Spring, a mountain top and clear weather with no wind. The elements of place are all properly alligned. However, they are not properly aligned with the psychological state of the main character which they are supposed to represent.

This example shows proper outer alignment but improper outer/inner alignment. The symbolism of mountain, spring, sunrise, above and clear denote an "up" psychological state rather than a "down" state.
A proper alignment between the outer and inner elements would involve keeping the elements and putting in a differernt psychological state. For example, instead of the state of depression, the state of happiness or joy might be substituted.

Now there is proper alignment between the outer and inner aspects of place.

If the state of the main character remains in depression then a change in the elements is called for. Rather than have the main character in the above space of a mountain top place him in the below space of a valley or even a cave. The time would be better if the day was fading and not beginning and the weather should be full of agitated storm clouds which suggest a great struggle in the heavens. The time would be better if it was not in the Spring but rather in the cold of Winter.

Note that the elements have been changed in the above example to match the state of the character. In the previous example, the state of the character was changed to match the elements.

The opening of Edgar Allan Poe's famous story "The Fall Of The House Of Usher" offers an excellent example of proper outward and inward alignment of symbols. The story begins:

"During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing along, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country; and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher. I know not how it was - but, with the first glimpse of the building, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit."

Notice how Poe sets the outside scene with many of the symbolic elements we have previously discussed: it is a "dark" and "soundless" day in the "autumn" of the year with "clouds" hanging low in the "evening." Here we have a dying day, in a season which symbolizes the death of the summer and a sky which, as in the opening of Bleak House, has seemed to "cave in" on the world. All of the external symbols are properly aligned amongst themselves and they are in proper alignment with the internal state of gloom of the narrator.

4. Internal Alignment

A dramatic narrative must have at least two characters in it: a protagonist and an antagonist. Most narratives have a number of additional characters. The alignment we have discussed so far has been alignment of place elements with the protagonist of the narrative. However, there must also be alignment of elements for the other characters in a narrative.

In the example below, we suggest basic alignment for a antagonist and protagonist. To simplify our example, we will utilize the elements discussed in the previous examples.

As you can see, there is proper vertical alignment under each of the characters. There is also a horizontal contrast between the characters.

Before we close we should briefly mention that mis-alignment can often present startling new communication perspectives. In other words, through the juxtaposition of places that do not fit traditional story genres the audience might see stories in new ways.

We mentioned Steven Speilberg previously in the book and want to mention him again as a master at utilizing mis-alignment. His hugely successful film Poltergeist is a good example of successfully mixing aspects of place symbolism. Traditionally, the horror and occult genre film has been a creature of the night found in dark old isolated homes in country settings. However, in Poltergeist this genre was moved to the daytime and placed in the middle class suburbs of the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles. The same type of mixing of genre and place information occurred in ET who was taken out of space and domesticated in a suburb. The traditional far away places of science fiction and fantasy were mixed here again, as with Poltergeist, with a suburban setting.

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