Amazing Kids! Magazine

Symbolism – An Abstract Idea

By Salma Danuningrat, Writing Tips Editor


Symbolism – a necklace, a rock, a jewel, a shoe – any object that represents something else in your story. This object – your symbol – has a different purpose than what it first is introduced as. Your symbol is meant to represent something other than what it is by itself, a deeper meaning in context:

“The rain – which lashed at her walls and pounded at the rooftop – created an opaque veil that prevented her from seeing the blackened world outside. All she could do was stare out the window as the raindrops mirrored her pale face.”

In this example, the rain symbolizes the main character’s sadness and the opaque veil symbolizes the barrier that is preventing her from escaping her feelings. The main character’s sadness is consuming her to a point where she is unable to think positive.

Symbolism is a great way to enhance your writing, and can be crafted into your fiction writing, short stories, poetry and much more. Here are some tips to writing with symbolism:

A Symbol is both Literal and Figurative – Your symbol should have two meanings: Literal and figurative. Your literal meaning is what the object actually is and your figurative meaning should be what it symbolizes or represents. In the above example, the literal meaning is simply the rain, whilst the figurative meaning is the sadness the main character experiences.

Show don’t Tell – It’s one of the most popular tips of writing, but it’s one of the most important when using symbolism. Don’t tell your reader what your object symbolizes in a single sentence, give hints to them by writing little details about the object and how it relates to what it symbolizes.

Metaphors vs. Symbolism – It can be confusing to know the differences between metaphors and symbolism. They both have objects with deeper meanings, so why aren’t they the same? Here’s where the line is drawn: Metaphors compare two objects whilst symbols represent an abstract idea.

The best thing about symbolism is that there is no right or wrong answer: An object that might mean one thing to someone could represent something else to you. It all depends on the angle you or the reader sees your story from.