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How To Use Symbolism To Improve Your Novel

"My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods. Time will change it; I'm well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath a source of little visible delight, but necessary." - Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë.

In the classic Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë uses foliage in the woods and eternal rocks to symbolize love. Even the title is symbolic of the wild nature of the characters in the story.

But what is symbolism, and how can you use it in your novel?

Symbolism as a literary device uses words, people, locations, marks, or abstract ideas to convey something other than its literal meaning. Authors can use symbols to express a religious, romantic, or emotional concept. 

Using symbolism can create a more sensory experience for your reader or give double meanings to certain words, enabling writers to say more using fewer words. A writer can use symbols to intensify emotions, create a visual image of an abstract idea, or connect themes expressed throughout their novel. But symbols can also help define your characters or conceal the darker meaning behind your story.

How can you include symbolism in your novel?

There are five stylistic devices for writers to insert symbols into their stories.

Metaphors compare two things without using a commonly known sign or equation, like equals. But it is also personification, where a writer attributes a human trait or emotion to an object, concept, or animal. For example, the rain danced on the roof.

A simile explicitly signifies a comparison and often uses the words like or as. For example, Anna was beautiful, like the red roses in full bloom, or John's anger was as fierce as a runaway fire. 

An allegory implicitly expresses an abstract or religious idea, but unlike a metaphor, it reflects a large part or the whole of the novel. It is a great way to express the theme of your book. For example, a story about two neighbors constantly fighting can be an allegory of the war between two countries. 

Archetypes occur in cross-cultural fiction and are used in the plot or form a central element of the story. A well-known example is depicting the devil as a cloven-hoofed and horned humanoid.

Myths often form part of a specific culture and are used to express a particular idea. For example, from Greek mythology, the story of Icarus warns us not to fly too close to the sun.

A simple way to add symbolism in your novel is to write your first draft, creating captivating characters and an intriguing plot. Then look at ways to insert symbolism into your narrative. On a small scale, it will describe the characters in your story. But on a large scale, it will tell more about the weather, cities, etc., to convey the overall mood or make a statement about your book's theme(s).  

Using symbols is a great way to draw the reader into the world of your story and help them connect to the characters. Writers - which one of these stylistic devices will you use to add symbolism to your narrative?



Examples of Symbolism in Literature

Writing 101: What Is Symbolism? Symbolism Definition and Examples in Literature

Symbolism in Fiction Writing

Allegory Examples and Definition: Famous Morals and Ideas

Written by Readers’ Favorite Reviewer Susan van der Walt