Episode 104: What the actual … ?

On July 18, 2020, Kasie and Rex took on symbolism, or the intentional obscuring of meaning. Here are the show notes:

Theme for the day

Symbolism in all its obvy, obscure, complicated beauty


  • Patreon is how you say you Love.This.Show.
  • Symbolism done right
  • Symbolism gone wrong
  • How and when to properly use symbolism
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Link to podcast

Segment 1

So we’re officially out of our June Patreon membership drive. Glad to have some new patrons on board. Welcome to Carolyn Hartley who joined yesterday. Thanks, Carolyn!

We also launched our Author Spotlights page on the site. You can become a spotlighted author on our site by becoming a patron of the show at Patreon.com/WriteOnSC. 

This month we’ve added Anna Fitch Courie, who has actually been a guest on the program back when we were allowed to bring people into the studio. She’s the author of six titles including the flagship Christ Walk, a book with a spiritual and physical fitness program to it. 

We also added CJ Heigelmann, whose work has been in contemporary and historical fiction. Crooked Fences is about a war veteran battling his own racism and PTSD and An Uncommon Folk Rhapsody is a sweeping, epic Civil War novel with multiple viewpoints and storylines. 

Welcome to both Anna and CJ. We’re proud to have you as featured authors in our WriteOnSC community and on our website.

Today’s topic is symbolism. Not for any good reason, really, except I was thinking of adjacent topics I could present workshops on to promote my book. Two weeks ago I did a workshop on Writing About Your Hometown and was able to talk at length about After December.

This is a great marketing ploy, by the way, offer to deliver a workshop on something of interest to readers and then use your own book, shamelessly, as the example. Thus encouraging them to read your book.

Okay, so symbolism is the multiple interpretations of an object, concept, or word (per this link) and is probably the source of most people’s English class PTSD.

“It’s a sun going behind the clouds,” says reader.

“Yes, but what does it mean?” says teacher.


Symbolism can be intentional (usually) but sometimes it’s unintentional. It just kind of happens that you’ve put the protagonist in a situation that happens to mirror the larger life-transition he is also experiencing. 

Segment 2

Three kinds of symbolism:

Religious — calls to faith traditions, allusions that people understand

Romantic — or sexual? Can we consider this innuendo? Suggestion?

Emotional — giving a physical interpretation of an emotional or mental occurrence

Five ways to use it:

Add emotion

Add imagery

Connect themes

Define characters

Conceal deeper meaning

LiteraryDevices.net offers this tutorial.

Simple symbols: colors (red for love, or blood; white for purity), animals, objects (broken mirrors)

More complicated: titles (Wuthering Heights — “stormy” which is what the characters’ personalities are like) or names

Most complicated: allusions (religious or otherwise), extended metaphors

Can symbols be misinterpreted?

Can there be too many of them?

Can there be too few?

Segment 3

How do you know you have a good one?

I like shapes for symbols, this is my theatre background. I think about how the light works, the view we have of the stage, the costumes and the blocking — how the characters move around the scene. All of these can be symbols. When someone steps up — closer, face-to-face — it’s a challenge. Would we consider that symbolism? Or just storytelling?

Symbolism through:

  • Physical items
  • Character
  • Events — cutting off one’s long hair which symbolized innocence

Types of symbolism:

  • Metaphor
    • Subcategory: personification
  • Simile
  • Allegory — extends to the entire work (vs. the metaphor which can be circumstantial)
  • Archetype — crosses genres and is present in multiple works
  • Myth — see allusions above, this is the inclusion of some ancient (but known) story inside your own

Use of allegory: Animal Farm – concealing a theme to big for the author to approach openly

Want to learn more about Short Story Basics? Click here to get the class.

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