For the past sixteen years, we have lived across a road from a river and a creek that flows into it. Although I haven’t used rivers as writing inspiration in my mystery series yet, rivers provide so much potential as symbols and plot points that they shouldn’t be overlooked.
Crossing rivers throughout history and literature is a sure sign of an irrevocable decision or event–Caesar crossing the Rubicon, the Israelites crossing the Jordan, the dead in Greek mythology crossing the River Styx. Once the river is crossed, there is no going back. (Fortunately, that hasn’t been the fate of my family. We cross back and forth all the time, but we’re not a future dictator, ancient Hebrews, or mythological characters.)
If a character is trying to leave the past behind, crossing a river can be sign of not looking back. Or the opposite can be true. A character crosses a river as a symbol of going to confront something from her past.
A river can also be a symbol of an obstacle or barrier in the character’s life. When he crosses it, it means he can now conquer the situation.
The flow of our river during different seasons brings all kinds of change with it. In the winter, when there’s a thaw, the river can rise many feet. In the summer, when it’s low, we never know what we might find. These changes can symbolize changes in the main character’s life. A suddenly high river or flooding river can symbolize danger or an overwhelming emotion. A low river can show that a character’s life is drying up, without vitality.
I always find time spent on the river and creek, away from the routine demands of living, refreshing to my soul. So the river can be a refuge. When it isn’t flooding.
Rivers in Mysteries
A river is a very handy natural feature in mysteries. An unusually low river can reveal the body of a long-lost person. A fast river can sweep away evidence. In my current WIP, the second novel in my mystery series, I’m planning on using a flooding river as an obstacle to a rescue. But as I write, that may change.
Like a river.
What have been your experiences with rivers? How have they shaped your writing?