• kirsten Trammell

Symbolism in Your Writing: Why You Need It and How To Use It

Are you stuck trying to “show not tell” another idea or emotion?

Do you seek a creative way to blend art within your story?

No need to worry!

There is a way to tackle all of this — through symbolism.

Symbolism is the use of an object, color, character or abstract idea to portray meaning.

This concept is littered throughout literature, film and basically any art form that exists today.

The music you listened to on your way into the office is filled with symbols. The jewelry you are wearing holds a symbol or is symbolic to you in some form.

Even the color of your nail polish is a symbol, or at the very least the silly name of its color uses symbolism. “Rudolph Nose Red” and “Atlantis Blue”…gotta appreciate that OPI wit!

Humans love to create meaning and connection within everything in life, and reading is no different. Give your readers the symbolism they seek and allow it to open your writing to new creative lengths.

You need it.

How Symbolism Helps

1. It helps readers connect.

Symbols can be used to assist and connect ideas or concepts.

Let’s face it, sometimes you don’t want to directly state a concept, that can get pretty boring for you as the writer and create trite content for the reader.

Have some fun and help your readers visualize complex concepts and follow central themes in a more imaginative way.

For example, perhaps your character just went through a breakup fight late one night and wakes up ready for a fresh start.

You can plainly say, “Sarah woke up ready for a fresh start.”

Or, you can create a fresh start through the use of symbols like a sunrise, clean sheets on a bed and a blank piece of paper to be written in.

“Sarah woke uncharacteristically with the sun that morning. The smell of coffee had yet to fill the room. One layer at a time she stripped her sheets and remade the bed. Nestled above the fresh white linen she opened her journal to gaze down upon a blank page. The words were ready to pour out.”

That may be a bit overkill, but you get the idea. It is far more fun to read into the symbolism of actions and items than being told exactly what is happening.

2. Clarify your story’s theme.

Many stories are based in heavy or controversial topics, that is what makes them worth reading. This is really great, although sometimes it can feel too direct or overpowering to confront it head-on.

Instead, turn to symbolism to drive your theme to the surface in an approachable manner.

3. Adds complexity and art to your story.

The vision that a symbol adds should build emotional weight to the words. Through a symbol, you can convey a great deal of information very quickly and effectively to evoke powerful emotions within your reader.

We are all naturally creative creatures with our own interpretation of things.

I love to think about going to a museum and staring at a painting, everyone is going to see different shapes, different colors, and emotions. Yes, the artist likely has something in mind, but regardless of their intention, you will perceive it your own unique way.

Let this be the same for your writing.

When you use symbolism in writing it invites independent thinking for the reader as they interpret your words. Give your readers something to reflect on after they read. What a gift!

Now that you understand why you should use symbolism, let's talk about how to put it in your next story.

How To Use Symbolism

1. Small-Scale symbolism.

You can use small symbolic references in a specific moment or scene.

This symbol likely won’t appear again within the story however it helps to connect and portray something important in a given moment. When you write a small scale symbol there is no need to plan in advance, as it won’t be reoccurring.

If you decide to use a waterfall to symbolize a character's tears falling down their face that will come to you in the moment of writing.

Allow these small scale symbols to weave into your writing organically. They should appear invisible to the reader and be more or less subtle for their magic to work on the subconscious mind.

But be careful, don’t litter your work with symbolism to the point the reader becomes confused. The symbol should pull the reader more into the story, not out of it.

2. Large-scale symbolism.

Many stories have a symbol that is carried throughout its entirety. This can be referred to as a novels “central metaphor” or a motif.

The stories theme is often supported through recurring symbols that help develop the overall message throughout the story. These can happen organically but often are a planned or considered concept. If you begin to write a story consider what your central theme is and whether there are any powerful symbols you would like to plant throughout to drive the meaning forward.

I have been working on a book where the ocean is a reoccurring symbol that connects with a theme of constant change. The tides shift, the swells adjust how the water lies. This relates to emotions and events surrounding the protagonist within different scenes.

Although water is a fairly universal symbol (and thus may come across cliché) its usage is subtle and lives within the background of the storyline.

Symbolism is a very delicate dance you must lead your readers through. But if used correctly, you can build beautiful content into your writing that creates a rich and luscious story for your readers to dive into.

If you want to stick with putting your creative emphasis in your business plans or new product launch, I am always here to help your content flow!

This article first appeared on Medium.

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