Symbolism: Give Something in Your Story a Deeper and Wider Meaning

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What Symbolism Is

As a literary device, symbolism gives an object a dual meaning. It imbues the object with ideas or qualities that are profound, far-reaching, and different from the object’s actual physical meaning.

Symbolism can enrich, provide a better understanding of the story, and show it has broader implications than itself.

A common example is a dove symbolizing peace.

Creating Symbolism in a Story


Suppose Camellia wants to know who she is. She carries in her handbag the letter from her deceased grandmother, which reveals her parents’ names. She rereads the letter whenever she becomes discouraged in her search for her parents.

The letter becomes a symbol for the truth of her origin. It has profound meaning to Camellia. It also ties together the people she’ll interview and touch in some way during her search. It’s no longer only a letter.


You can have an object appear several times in your story to associate an emotion or mood. In my romance, Calculated Risk, sticky notes symbolize Cisney’s way of trying to manage chaos in her life.

One example is when she’s heard bad news and wants to leave Nick’s house. She writes the bus’s departure time on a sticky note and adheres it to her cell phone. Most people would’ve used Notes or some other reminder app in their cell.

Creating Symbolism in Context

A story symbol will be understood in the context of how you set it up. You may have an apple show up in scenes to symbolize knowledge.

For ages, people have associated an apple with the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden that, when eaten, revealed the knowledge of good and evil. For me, an apple left on a teacher’s desk or the apples on Apple devices also symbolize knowledge.

Or an apple in your story could symbolize a favored one as it did in the Old Testament when someone was “the apple of his eye.”

Attaching Symbolism to Something Other Than Objects

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Sometimes an action or an event can symbolize something. For example, saying, “I knew your Aunt Louise,” could let a fellow spy know others are safe to receive messages of national importance. In New Testament times when Christians were thrown to the lions, Christians drew a simple fish in the dust to subtly reveal they were Christians. These two actions symbolize revealing safe people.

Receiving Aid from Other Literary Devices

Other literary devices, such as a metaphors, similes, allegories, and allusions, can help create symbolism.

  • When a symbol has something in common with an idea or quality, a metaphor or simile can show this. Suppose Alec shudders every time he passes the roller coaster at the fair. Symbolism: The author has Alec pass the roller coaster when bad or good events happen in his life. Life is (or is like) a roller coaster. Both have ups and downs.
  • When Jesus’ parable of a prodigal son symbolizes a character’s life, this uses an allegory, or, if someone in the story mentions the character’s life is like the Prodigal Son’s, he employs an allusion.

Use symbolism to give your reader a better understanding of your story. Click to tweet.

What symbolism have you noticed in a story?

Imagery: Create Strong Mental Pictures for Your Reader

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What Imagery Is

Imagery is one of the strongest literary devices. A writer uses words and phrases to fashion mental images for readers. Imagery helps the reader to visualize more realistically objects, actions, and ideas. Imagery’s descriptive words can also involve the reader in the emotions and sensations of characters. The device appeals to our five senses to better imagine the world.

Often, imagery is built on other literary devices, such as metaphors, similes allusions, personifications, and onomatopoeia (words created to imitate sounds).

Let’s look at before-and-after examples.


“In case you didn’t know, Amy’s having an affair,” Grant said.

Sam looked shocked.

Grant way sorry for what he’d said erroneously in anger.

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Grant whirled around. “In case you didn’t know, Amy’s having an affair.”

Sam’s body reeled as if hunks of his world, his trust, hopes, and every emotion he held for Amy, were crashing to the garage’s concrete floor and shattering into unrecognizable shards.

Grant’s calf muscle’s tightened and begged to bolt. What had he done? He stepped back, his ankle striking a sharp edge of the lawn mower. Pain shot up his leg. Good. He deserved to hurt. How could he ever forgive himself for his Jezebel spirit toward his friend in the heat of a senseless argument? Especially, since what he’d said wasn’t true.

Hopefully the “after” example paints better images of both men, their surroundings, and their reactions.


  • Whirled is a descriptive verb for what some one would do when angry.
  • The description of Sam’s world falling apart is a simile.
  • Grant’s calf muscles begging to bolt is a personification.
  • Everyone knows the pain of knocking their ankle against something sharp (sense of touch).
  • Jezebel spirit is an allusion. This strong image references the evil of Jezebel in the Bible. Among many other traits, she lies, catches people off guard, and is vengeful.
  • Showing what’s going on inside Grant’s head allows the reader to share in the sensation of shock at what Grant did to Sam.

Why Imagery Is Important

Imagery helps the reader to envision the characters and scenes clearly. It makes the scene more vivid to the reader, replacing telling with graphic showing. It can also give prose a certain beauty and change clichéd writing into something fresh. Imagery can create the desired mood for a scene.

More Examples:

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I heard the bacon in the frying pan, and it smelled great.


The bacon popped and crackled in Dad’s frying pan, and oh, the aroma. My mouth watered. 




The concert was loud.


The deafening concert had my ears ringing for days.


image by OpenClipart-Vectors


He continued toward the castle in the early evening when the full moon was up.


Soon after dusk, the wind picked up, and the waving pine boughs beckoned him to continue toward the castle silhouetted against the moon, the gold medallion commandeering a third of the sky.

Use imagery to give your reader vivid pictures that bring them into your story. Click to tweet.

When do you create imagery—as you write or when you edit?

Diction: Choosing the Right Word for Your Character

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What Diction Is

Diction for fiction is the style of writing determined by a writer’s word choices. Words should

  • suit the story’s environment,
  • be appropriate to the writer’s audience, and
  • have meanings understood by readers.

Why Diction Is Important

  • The wrong word can take readers out of the story or cause them to misinterpret an intended message.
  • The right word can add to the story’s tone or mood.
  • Good word choices can show a character’s social status, background, education, where he’s from, and his personality.


Suppose the genre is “prairie” romance, which depicts life in the prairie states in the 1800s. The heroine is a common girl whose family moved west from West Virginia.

Karen attached the Arabian stallion to the buckboard, rending her satin sleeve. Oh great! One more task to do after dinner with a house full of lads gamboling in the cabin.


The name Karen, one of the most popular names for girls born in the 1950s and 1960s, became common in English-speaking countries in the 1940s.

image by artcats

Although General Ulysses S. Grant was given two Arabian stallions in 1877, they weren’t introduced to Americans until the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. Common people couldn’t afford such a breed.

During the 1800s, most hardworking prairie women wore dresses made from calico or other lightweight material.

I consider the exclamation, Oh great! as a modern expression; it would’ve pulled me from the story.

Task is a good word, but chore refers to a household duty.

The word rending means to tear into two or more pieces. Tearing also means to make a cut, split, or hole in something.

Supper is less formal than dinner.

Lads is a British term.

The word gamboling may be unfamiliar to many readers. Some readers may think the lads were gambling.

image by almondbranch

Better Rewrite:

Bessie attached the mule to the buckboard, tearing her calico sleeve. Tarnation! One more chore for after supper with a cabin full of boys and their carryings-on.



Types of Diction    

  • Formal (presentations) “This evening’s banquet will be held in the ballroom. Formal attire please.”
  • Informal (every-day situations) “Dinner tonight will be at my house. Come casual.”
  • Colloquial (words particular to a country, area, city, or neighborhood) “Y’all come for supper. Sausage biscuits, gravy, and sweet tea. No need to gussie up.”
  • Slang (impolite or the latest fad words) “Eats at my digs. Later.”
  • Poetic versus prose (Any poets out there?)

Word choice also depends on whom the character addresses. He may speak differently to children, senior citizens, friends, bosses, spouses, parents, judges, pastors, and strangers.

Cautions for Diction

  • Changes in the style of word choices within the story can distract or confuse the reader.
  • When looking for a synonym to keep your writing fresh, be careful not to choose one that has a slightly different meaning than you intended.
  • Unless your character speaks in clichés, avoid these tired phrases.

Diction is a writer’s concern to make the best word choices for his works. Click to tweet.

Can you share a word or phrase that jarred you in a book you read?