How To Use Symbolism Properly

So, since I’ve started highschool, whenever we finish reading a book with the class, my English teachers have made, and still make, us students do something called, ‘a novel reduction’. Simply put, it’s basically an overall view of the novel so that way you can reflect on all the most important aspects. 
One of the categories on the reduction is, symbols from the book. In the past, I never really thought all that much about the importance of symbolism. My mind just assumed that the mockingbird was just a mocking bird, not a representation of Boo Radley or the other characters. 
But, upon taking that closer look, it’s easy to see why symbolism is so important. Overall, it creates an interactive and connective experience for the reader. By that, I mean, when the reader makes the conscious attempt, or subconscious attempt, to relate symbols to what they represent, it causes the reader to ultimately feel more involved in the work. Besides that, readers will often connect themselves to that symbol. 
Of course, symbols used in a piece of work can’t just be half-assed and thrown together, just because you read that good pieces of literature involve symbols. Any symbols used need to actually connect with the story in one way or another. 
Now, onto the difference between Major and Minor symbolism. 

Major symbolism is a symbol that follows throughout the whole novel of story, instead of just a split second sentence in the middle of chapter three. For example, the constant saying of house instead of home in the novel, The House On Mango Street. I’m not sure if you’ve read the novel or not, and I don’t want to spoil anything; therefore I will not explain the symbolism used here to any further extent. 
Minor symbolism is symbols used quickly. They don’t majorly impact the story or plot line, but they still impact whomever is reading. They often are helpful in further explaining the meaning of something. It’s also very common for them to be unintentional. 

I’ve made up these terms of Major and Minor symbolism as a helpful guiding tool for myself and now you. When writing, be sure to always use Major symbolism in some way, but be careful not to overdo it. Minor symbolism can pretty much be done as much as you please!

Now, I’ve told you how to use symbolism, but have I really defined symbolism for you? No, I really haven’t! I can’t expect you to know what your doing when I haven’t told you a thing about what your doing!

So, what is symbolism?

According to the dictionary, symbolism is: the use of symbols to represent ideas or qualities. And symbols are embodied representations of things. Such as how if you were to use a mermaid as a symbol, it would represent free spiritedness. Another thing that represents free spiritedness would be the ocean itself. 

These symbols are then used to further represent and define different aspects of a story. For example, Sally Sue was a deep sea diver. She spent almost her whole life in the ocean. This an example of minor symbolism, displaying, without actually having to say so, that Sally Sue has a free spirit. 

Sometimes symbols, more commonly minor symbols, can be used as a contradiction for the character. This can actually create a much deeper and more unique character. As well as it can help for future character and plot development. This can be either Major or Minor symbolism. Sometimes this is a great way to create a story plot, and the story resolution can be the symbol no longer being a contradiction to the character’s personality. 

For example, Sally Sue spent every single day in the Ocean. Her time spent in the water was a part of her daily schedule. Breakfast, school, ocean, dinner, ocean, bed. Never did she break his consistent schedule. This is a contradiction because Sally loves the ocean, representing a free spirit, but she is a very planned and orderly person. Everything has to go as it is planned. 

So, now you know what symbolism is, and you’ve seen multiple examples of such. Therefore, it’s time to move onto, how to use symbolism. 

I’ve explained that for the most part. I’ve told you how to not overuse and how to use symbolism to help create a better depth of your work. But, I haven’t explained how to come up with symbolism. 

Well, guess what, writing is all about an author’s mind. So, you’ll never find a perfect recipe for writing. 

However, when it comes to symbolism, think about your life. Think about ordinary symbols and random things all around you. Everything represents something. So use these ordinary things spiratically in your writing. 

Now here is a breakdown of everything important to remember when writing symbolism. 

  • Use Major symbolism one to a few times in your writing. 
  • Use Minor symbolism often to increase character and story depth (A major symbol can do this too). 
  • Use a variety of everyday things for symbolism. 
  • Be more original when it comes to Major symbolism. Be sure to make Major symbols memorable. 
  • Use symbols in a variety of ways. 
  • Symbolism can be used for anything and everything, from living things to inanimate objects. (For example, her bedroom walls were painted with palm trees.)
  • Symbols used need to somehow make sense with the story, whether that be they relate to the character and their life, the plot, setting, etc…
  • Don’t overload a book with symbolism, and don’t underdo it. Theirs always a line to cross, but there is no magic number. It’s at your discretion. 

I hope this post was helpful for any struggles you’ve had with symbolism! Now get writing!

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