Element Five: Symbolism

Hey there!

Today’s post is about the use of symbolism in your creative writing. Symbolism is defined as “[1] the use of symbols to express or represent ideas or qualities in literature, art, etc., [2] the particular idea or quality that is expressed by a symbol,” (merriam-webster.com). 5Symbolism.jpg

When used correctly, symbolism adds immense depth to your novel. It provides your readers with layers and layers of new, interesting material to enjoy. In order to fully understand how to use symbolism in our writing, we need to know two things: what a symbol is and how to weave it into our writing. Let’s begin!

What is a Symbol?

A symbol is “[1] an action, object, event, etc., that expresses or represents a particular idea or quality, [2] a letter, group of letters, character, or picture that is used instead of a word or group of words,” (merriam-webster.com). Examples of some well-known symbols would be:

Symbols and Their Meanings
Symbol Meaning
The Cross Jesus Christ’s Crucifixion and Resurrection/Eternal Life
Light Truth, Enlightenment, Safety
Water Purification, Cleansing
Fire Anger, Passion
Rose (Beauty and the Beast) Beauty in Tragedy/Love/Appearance
Mockingjay Pin (The Hunger Games) Defiance of the Capitol/Unexpected Growth
Colors (Divergent) Grey – conformity/ equality

Red/Yellow –happiness/friendliness

Black/White – Truth

Black w/Piercings – rebelliousness

Blue – Calm

How to Use Symbolism in Creative Writing

With all the symbols present in our current culture as well as throughout history, there are countless ways to utilize symbolism in your writing. In an effort to keep things succinct, we’ll focus on the three most powerful ways to convey concepts in your writing.

Option 1: Repetition

The repetition of ideas and objects is often used to form clear, obvious symbols. Writers bring the idea or object up multiple times throughout the story to show it’s far-reaching implications. Examples include the Mockingjay pin and President Snow’s white rose in The Hunger Games series (I think both are in all three books), the red rose in Beauty and the Beast, the clothing colors in Divergent and the Bliss drug in The Maze Runner series.

Option 2: Anaphora

Anaphora (pronounced “a-NAFF-ra”) is the repetition of words or phrases at the beginning of sentences or phrases within a sentence,” (Myers, 95). The purpose of this technique is to reiterate the surrounding idea. An (overly exaggerated) example of anaphora would be something like this:

It was then that they realized Sarah would always be wild. She would always be rebellious, always be inconsiderate and always be completely, unapologetically her. And that was all right.


            She stared at him, feeling resolve boil up within her. In that moment – in that very instant – she decided she would never back down, never be afraid, and she would never apologize again for the decision to make this dream happen. Never, no matter what. This was what she had to do and she would do it, regardless of approval.

As stated earlier, these examples are over exaggerated, but the point stands. Anaphora is a simple, effective way to bring attention to a detail, idea or object. 

Option 3: Epistrophe

Similar to anaphora, epistrophe is the repetition of words or phrases. The difference is that unlike anaphora, which comes at the beginning of a sentence or phrase, epistrophe appears at the end. This might look something like:

“You want excitement? Then that’s what you’ll get. Excitement,” she said, drilling into him with her eyes. “That’s all everyone wants – excitement. I’m not everyone – I just want what you’re willing to give. I love you, okay?  I just want content.”


“I’ve loved you since I met you. Since the day we met I’ve loved you. You walked in the door and I knew you were special. I took one look and knew I’d love you always. Not just for a little while – for forever.”


Sometimes anaphora and epistrophe are combined, resulting in a truly memorable sentence structure. The following Bible verses illustrate the impact of the combined techniques:

“Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? So am I.” (2 Corinthians 11:22)

“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace,” (Numbers 6:24-26, NIV).

            Isn’t that beautiful to read? I love it! These amazing verses are just a few of many examples on how sentence structure can make writing so much more poignant and powerful.

Basically –

We’ve established that symbolism is an important, immensely useful element of storytelling. Serving to enrich your story, symbolism creates an entirely new layer of meaning beneath what was once just a one-dimensional writing. Properly using repetition, anaphora and epistrophe enables writers to create beautiful, memorable sentences that draw the reader’s eye and mind to their carefully designed, well-constructed ideas. These sentences stick in minds for ages, working to place essential meaning into the lines of your work.

Think about your favorite authors. Perhaps some of them are historical greats: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jane Austen, Bronte, Walt Whitman or Ralph Waldo Emerson. There’s a reason they’re great. There’s a reason their work sticks in the minds of thousands. These classic authors knew how to build deeply meaningful ideas out of print-and-paper words. The mark of a true wordsmith is that their work still impacts just as strongly generations later. Resonant stories will be changing minds and lives years from now.

(Anybody notice the anaphora in that last paragraph?)

Thank you for stopping by to read this post! I hope that you found it as interesting as I did, learning how writers bring thought-provoking concepts to our attention as readers. Discoveries like this amaze me because often times, symbols are so subtly constructed that you almost don’t notice them until you’ve finished the story. This goes to show how powerful true writing can be when done correctly and for the right motivations. Self-establishment and pride lead to failure, but the desire to please God and help our fellow man blooms into a beautiful work of genuinely artful life.

“The highway of the upright avoids evil; those who gaurd their ways preserve their lives.

Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.

Better to be lowly in spirit along with the opressed than to share plunder with the proud.

Whoever gives heed to instruction prospers, and blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord.

The wise in heart are called discerning, and gracious words promote instruction.”(Provers 16:17-21, NIV)


I wish you all the best in your writing journey,



The Bible (New International Version)


Myers, Lesha. Windows to the World: An Introduction to Literary Analysis. Locust Grove: Institute for Excellence in Writing, 2008. Print

Shmoop Editorial Team. “Faction Clothing in Divergent.” Shmoop. Shmoop University, Inc., 11 Nov. 2008. Web. 27 Sep. 2016.



2 thoughts on “Element Five: Symbolism

    • Thank you so much! I’m glad to be able to help:) The various techniques hidden in our favorite books make them so much more meaningful and interesting. I appreciate your comment and hope that you enjoy the next post!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s