Monday, June 28, 2010

Symbolism in Literature

Hi, I'm Julie, new to posting here on Utah Children's Writers. Thanks for having me, and if you want to learn more about me and my writing, see my website at (It should be up by the end of today.)

I want to talk about symbolism in our writing. In todays commercial-type fiction, the importance of symbolism is frequently overlooked. We focus so much on the catch-phrases that have been drilled into us at every conference and every lecture--avoid passive voice, show don't tell, and watch out for cliche--that we forget about the finer points of writing that add depth to our story. And any story can have symbolism--YA, middle grade, or picture book.

Why is symbolism important? Because when a reader recognizes something as a symbol, it invokes an awareness of imagination that engages the reader's intelligence. Even a young child can recognize the symbolism in darkness and get that shiver of dread down their spine.

Here is a basic example of what I'm trying to say:
"When spring is mentioned in a story, a poem, or a play, a veritable constellation of associations rises in our imaginative sky: youth, promise, new life, young lambs, children skipping . . . on and on. And if we associate even further, that constellation may lead us to more abstract concepts such as rebirth, fertility, renewal." (Thomas C. Foster)

What about snow? Sleep? Flight? Even food? Having an awareness of symbolic associations will help us, as writers, create works that settle deep into our readers imaginations.

So, for my next few posts, I'll be discussing some basic types of symbolism that we can include in our writing to add that extra dimension and kick our writing up a level.


Scott said...

Great post, Julie. I love symbolism when it is skillfully used.

Cathy Witbeck said...

THis is a great topic and one that isn't often discussed. I love it when I catch symbolism being used. It's an extra layer that adds depth and interest to the story.

Michelle said...

I didn't know you were the Monday writer now! I liked the point about the child recognizing darkness as a symbol. I think Rachel is already picking up on symbolism.

Paul West said...

Found it. Thanks. A good commentary.