Symbolism is one of my favorite ways to enhance a story. Symbols can convey complex ideas with few words--a great way to "show" instead of "tell."
Symbolism adds another layer, deepens the writer's theme, bypassing the conscious mind of the reader going straight to her emotional core. While some people will not "get" the symbolism, the good thing is that it won't interfere with those particular readers' appreciation of the story. Yet for those who do understand the symbolism, the story is much, much richer.
There are three types of symbols:
- Common symbols, which are those most people understand--think red means anger or a ring fidelity.
- Uncommon symbols, those most people don't understand. The language of flowers comes to mind, popular in Victorian times. If you use symbols like these, you'll have to give the reader hints in order for him to understand.
- Story symbols, which the writer creates in her story. Though not readily apparent, if the writer sets it up correctly, these can be quite powerful. A story symbol that comes to mind is from It's a Wonderful Life when George Bailey is tired from working so hard and he goes to climb the stairs and the top of the banister wobbles loose in his hand. The banister top symbolizes everything about his life that frustrates him.
So why go to all this trouble? Symbolism often ties the whole work together. It's a great tool for enhancing and clarifying your story theme.
Next in the series--Tension. (With a capital T on purpose.)