Prepared by: Patricia Johnson
Posted on: March 31, 2002
An earlier version of
this exercise ran in March 2001.
Authors use symbolism on many different levels in stories. It is
characters, images, actions, and places. Some examples of common
rivers, ocean, sky, flowers, trees and bridges. Symbols are images,
or events that represent something else.
How a symbol is used can change or
influence its meaning. A symbol
developed from a common image or from a unique one. A unique symbol is
sled named Rosebud in Citizen Kane. The sled has many underlying
including Kane's lost childhood. In one of the sconces of his childhood
the beginning of the movie, we see a shot of the sled abandoned. At the
of the movie, the sled is burned in a fire. Action takes place around
sled. Action enhances the viewer's ability to understand the symbol.
helps to express the symbol's importance in the movie.
Two powerful symbols that are more common
are seen in the novel Lord
Flies; where the symbols were the flies and the pig's head. They
the breakdown of society, and the consequences of death and murder. A
is a common symbol that is perhaps overused, yet it is a unique and
symbol in the novel A River Runs Through It. The symbol may be easily
understood by the reader, or less consciously understood and more
If the symbol enhances the meaning of the story, then the reader will
understand the author.
Here is a helpful site that defines
Here is a website with alphabetized common symbols. A good place to get
symbol for your story.
In 300 words or less, write a scene with a symbol that is central to
story. Use a symbol that has not been overused. Remember, if the symbol
too abstract, or misrepresented, then the symbolism will be lost. If
reveal too many details, then the symbol becomes too obvious. Use only
When critiquing the submissions find the
symbol. Describe it and
tell how it
is important to the story. Explain why it is an integral part of the
Address what the story would be like without the symbol. Mention if it
tied to the action of the story or not.
Have fun with this exercise.
Patricia Johnson's wrap-up
Posted on: April 7, 2002
Hello Practice-w members,
The symbolism exercise went very well.
Each of you who submitted and
critiqued helped to make it a success.
Some interesting reflections:
- Symbolism allows each writer to
discover his unique voice.
- Symbolism brings more to a story than may consciously be
- Some critiquers read symbols differently from others.
- Critiquers unique interpretations gave writers further ideas and
directions for rewrites.
- Symbolism is a process and is full of surprises.
- The writer does not have to know every interpretation of a symbol
- Even universal symbols function differently in different stories.
- Symbols sometimes have several layers of meaning.
- The critiques allow writers insight into how their story appears
- Our own experiences add to how we interpret a symbol.
Some mentioned it felt risky to interpret
some symbols. But the benefit
revealing a unique perspective to the writer outweighs the risk. As
we need to know how our story is interpreted by readers. Symbolism is a
great tool for this.
Thanks to each to you for participating.
Web site created by
Rhéal Nadeau and
the administrators of the Internet Writing Workshop.
Modified by Gayle Surrette.