Purple Prose + writerly books

On My Writerly Bookshelf: Symbolism

On Monday, I talked about weaving symbolism into your story. No matter how small the detail, symbolism can enrich your writing.

In the post, I mentioned the book Symbols, Images, and Codes: The Secret Language of Meaning in Film, TV, Games, and Visual Media by Pamela Jaye Smith. I recently discovered this book and love it. If you’re looking for a deep book on the meaning of symbolism in our culture (or anything along this line), this book isn’t it. If you’re looking for a reference book to help you pull more symbolism into your story, this is what you’re looking for. Or at least it’s a good starting point.

Pamela divides the book into twenty-three categories. These include:

Astronomy and Astrology
Composition (i.e. the concept photographers, cinematographers, artists consider, and you will too after reading this section)

The book begins with a brief introduction on how symbols, images, and codes work. Each chapter (category) is then broken down according to:

  • What the symbol means. For example, air means freedom, spirit, superhuman power, and understanding.
  • How it’s been used in history, myth, and contemporary times.
  • Examples found in movies, along with explanations as to how it worked in the movie.
  • How to use it in your story. There are all kinds of cool ideas listed. Some are more appropriate for certain stories verses others.
  • Written descriptions. Words that are great for creating powerful prose and imagery.
  • Cinematic techniques. Not relevant to most of us, but this section is really cool too.
At the end of the book is a section that lists different emotions, situations, and concepts, and provides a list from the above categories that are applicable to each. You select the symbol that will have the most power at that point in your story. Remember, some will speak to your reader at a conscious level, and other will speak to them at the unconscious one.

No matter what genre you write, this book is a great resource.


If you want to know more about writing symbolism in fiction, I have a very special guest post coming up in a few weeks. This author KNOWS about symbolism.

(How’s that for suspense?)

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On My Writerly Bookshelf: Symbolism + writerly books