Symbolism for the Symbolically Challenged

As I said in an early post, I really really suck at identifying symbolism in literature. Symbolic scenes generally just look like tripped out nonsense to me. (I’m looking at you, green light in The Great Gatsby!) But writing something sometimes requires me to use symbolism myself. I’ve found this can be completely accidental on my part, but sometimes I really have to work on it. I figure I can’t be the only one who is symbolically challenged, so here are some ways to combat it- on purpose. 

Colors. This can be a little obvious, so I actually don’t use colors for their common symbol (see chart below). I associate the color with something else in the writing and bring it back later. I love using colors as symbols because I love color coding things, so it’s very natural for me. 

Classic symbolic meanings of color (from here.)

Transplanting other symbols. This only works if you were able to find symbols in other works, or had them pointed out to you. You can use the same symbol for the same or a similar meaning. Obviously don’t plagiarize, that’s not what I mean at all. Think about Harry Potter. He’s got a lightning bolt on his head- and lightning often symbolizes supernatural power (had to google that- there’s no shame in just googling the meaning of symbols). So you can also use lightning in writing to mean supernatural power. It might even have more meaning because of it’s link to Harry Potter. 

(Picture’s from here.)

Now for the curve ball- a dream interpretation book. Not kidding. I originally bought one of these because I notoriously have vivid, ridiculous dreams that I always remember. I wanted to know if the book could clear some things up for me. It didn’t- but that’s because each symbol from the dreams had interpretations that just didn’t work for me. They did, however, explain a TON of symbols in their classic interpretations. Now when I want to include a symbol, I have a book of symbols and their meanings. It’s probably not the best source in the world, but it did help me write a pretty killer symbolic dream sequence. 

I got it on sale for about $5 at Barnes and Noble one time. You don’t need a fancy one that has fifteen different interpretations (unless you think you need that many options). You just need one that gets the ball rolling. (Picture’s from here.)

You can always just have some object have meaning because you gave it meaning. However, that’s often where I think things get a little murky. Why include symbols if there’s no way for the audience to interpret what you mean? What’s the point of that? Just remember to use symbolism sparingly!!!

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