Thursday, January 12, 2012

On Logos, Arrows, and Storytelling

"Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it." --Hannah Arendt

We can blame my brother for sending me off on this tangent--but I'm glad he did. You see, he's the one that mentioned it first.

"Have you ever seen the arrow in the FedEx logo?" he asked. And that's when the adventure began.

We had never heard of the arrow. Have you? When we first looked for it, as we'd be out on the road somewhere and pass a FedEx truck, we'd ask each other--hubby and I--where is there an arrow? What's he talking about? I don't see any arrow. We looked every which way but up--on the truck, on the letters, around the letters. Nothing.

But. Then. We. Saw. It. Embedded as it is between the capital E of "Ex" and the smaller case x. I immediately texted my brother: "We saw the arrow!" We were on I-75 south heading toward Cincinnati at the time.

Again, did you know about this? Wouldn't we feel silly if everyone else but us knows it's there?

Anyway, the idea sent me off to explore if this optical illusion if you will was intentional in the design or just a fluke. It was intentional and it isn't a fluke.

The creator of the logo is a man named Lindon Leader. In an interview with Mr. Leader (you can read the interview here), he describes how he designed the logo, even to the point of developing a new font in order to make the arrow fit. "I thought," he said, "that if I could develop this concept of an arrow it could be promoted as a symbol for speed and precision, both FedEx communicative attributes...The power of the hidden arrow is simply that is a hidden bonus."

And that got me thinking about embeddedness (is that a real word?)  in our stories. What hidden elements help communicate our purpose, our stories? I suggest these five:

1. Embedded Theme. "By its nature, theme can't be obvious. At best it's open for interpretation, thought, and discussion, an echo left to resonate long after the book itself is read. We can't present theme directly. Sometimes we have trouble grasping it ourselves." This gem comes from Martina Boone over at Adventures in YA and Children's Publishing (here).

2. Embedded Symbolism. "Symbolism," says Stephen King in On Writing, "(is) more than just chrome on the grille. It can serve as a focusing device for both you and your reader, helping to create a more unified and pleasing work. I think that, when you read you mss over, you'll see if symbolism, or the potential for it, exists. If it doesn't, leave well enough alone. If it does, however--if it's clearly a part of the fossil you're working to unearth--go for it. Enhance it."

3. Embedded Story Question. Ann Whitford Paul, in Writing Picture Books, suggests the importance of finding your story's question. "It behooves writers to think of a general question about the underlying issue they are trying to unravel in each new is critical each story has a question. If not, the story probably will not be focused. Discovering your question will keep your story moving in the right direction."

4. Embedded Ending in the Beginning. A personal favorite of mine, as I try to bring this around in my stories. The idea is stated in Leonard Bishop's Dare to be a Great Writer, 329 Keys to Powerful Fiction. "Somewhere in the opening of the novel the writer should include a suggestion of the conclusion. Readers will not recognize the 'end-in-the-beginning.' How can they? But when they reach the novel's conclusion--no matter how many side journeys you have led them along--they will feel a sense of completion to the novel...If you do not know the conclusion of the novel, begin writing anyway. When you reach the end you can include some of it in the opening by rewriting. The end is already there, but it all starts from the beginning."

5. Embedded Hope. I like this concept, too, which comes from Steven Taylor Goldsberry's The Writer's Book of Wisdom, 101 Rules for Mastering Your Craft. "You can write about blood and fire, human bodies scorched like forgotten cookies, about misery, torture (etc. etc.)...But in the end there must be a glimpse of gold, the first bright feather of a rare bird reborn from the ashes of a mythical bonfire. One of the great traditions of art is that it provides hope...Make your audience gasp at suspenseful or wondrous adventures, but get them home safely. Let them breathe easy once more."

I debated whether or not to reveal the arrow, in case this is the first some of you have heard of it, and maybe you'd like to find it on your own. But like they say, once you've found it, you'll probably never "not" be able to see it again--it will pop out at you every time. And it's stuck in my head now, so I guess I'll spoil it for you. Here's the arrow.

Any "obvious but hidden" things you seek to include in your stories?

(Disclaimer: I do not, nor have I ever worked for FedEx. This is not a paid advertisement!)


  1. I didn't know about the arrow and at first I wondered why make it if no one saw it or discovered it but then I thought some people have. I guess with any book, some readers will find those hidden themes and meanings and others won't and that's how it is supposed to be. Loved learning from you today.

  2. I heard about the arrow not long ago - it was in an online article that discussed other similar logos (which I forget now...) too. I love how you took this idea and ran with it. Excellent stuff!

    Have a great weekend! :)

  3. What a terrific post - through and through. And no, I had not seen the arrow.

  4. I have seen the arrow--comes from a graphic design background, I guess, but your points about embedding are fantastic! Thanks for such a thoughtful post!


  5. I've heard of the arrow before and did find it, but only after looking a while. I had also heard of all these "embedded" items except for hope. When I teach my drama class and we are preparing for storytelling, we talk about choosing stories that leave the listener "enriched." I think embedded hope is kind of the same thing. Who can forget the first Star Wars movie and how unbelievable it was that Darth Vader actually escaped! Kids tend to like the "bad guys" to lose and the "good guys" to win. It's not that simple, of course, but it's a good point to keep in mind.

  6. Hi, 60-Minutes did a piece on FedEx a while back, and I saw the arrow. This is a wonderful post. When I create scenes, I set them in places, or create places, that are a perfect metaphor for the character's internal state. I doubt my readers consciously pick up on it, but it definitely reinforces what's going on in the heroine's brain.

  7. I'd never heard of that arrow, either. How cool! It's a valuable analogy, too: there are so many layers to our stories that aren't necessarily in-your-face obvious, but their presence can transform a book from good to great. I'm re-reading a book, preparing to revise, right now--and I plan to look for these elements as I do.

  8. Lots of food for thought, Kenda. Frankly speaking, I had never given all this much thought, but will keep them in mind for future stories.