Symbolism and Themes in Writing


When you read or discuss a book in a classroom setting or even with a friend or family member, inevitably you will find yourself talking about the symbols, themes and other little nuggets that pop up again and again throughout the tale. These little pieces end up connecting the larger work in very special ways. People often interpret these nuggets in different ways depending on how they experience or view the world. This adds to the depth of the experience for readers as they connect with the story, the characters and also to each other.

To many, it’s a bit of a mystery how writers inject symbols and themes into their writing. So, today I thought I’d talk about how this works for me in my own projects.

The common question I get from people is: do you create those symbols on purpose? Or do they happen by accident? The answer? A little bit of both!

Generally speaking, the appearance of symbols and themes happens organically. This can occur at several stages throughout a story’s progress. First, it can start to happen as I am fleshing out the plot and characters – before I even begin to write the first scene. Sometimes, things just fit together nicely and make sense. This in turn can also serve to drive the plot and help determine who the other characters are and how they fit into the framework of the story.

Then, as I begin to write my first draft, I’ll occasionally notice that a particular image or symbol pops up regularly without my even planning or knowing about it. Usually, I begin to discover these little nuggets as I am editing and going through the story on the second pass.

This particular pattern happened as I was going through my completed draft of NightWind. First, I noticed that the color of Burga, the city-state that Rion is from, is gold. The leader of the city-state has golden eyes and every time I describe Rion in the sunlight, there are things glittering on her person: her wings, the buckles on her uniform, etc. This, then inspired some symbolism and helped flesh out her partner, the Mystic called Eli.

The spark which powers the mechanical wings and everything else in their world, thus became silver. Because Eli controls the spark, he is often described using the color silver. The spark that comes to his fingers is silver and the scars that cover his body are, too. The duality that this creates with the two characters is pretty cool. Then, when everything came together, I decided to amp it up and really play with the silver/gold motif and used it as inspiration for the final battle scene. You’ll have to read the book to see this at play, though.

So, how can you inject symbols and themes into your own work?

As with anything, inspiration comes from all around you. I get ideas for symbols and how to weave them through a story simply by reading what other authors do and how they accomplish it. Try reading for more than just enjoyment and pay close attention to the way concepts are presented within the stories you read. Then, when you go back to your own writing, see what happens.

Honestly, a lot of this will happen naturally because symbols and themes don’t just happen in fiction. They crop up in the real world, too. I’ve found in my own life that little things pop up over and over again. I can’t explain why. But, it just happens. Does that seem to be the way things work for you, too?

Anyway, when you create these nuggets for people to find in your fiction, believe it or not, your art is actually imitating real life. Often, the things that intrigue us most about events in our lives or the wider world are the way things randomly seem to align or diverge in a meaningful way.

Using symbols and themes throughout a story add to its depth and bring a reader into the fold of your world in a different way and are some of the most fun things about writing, in my humble opinion. Readers really love to discuss those little nuggets that crop up throughout the narrative. I know because I’m one of them.

Advertisements