Sunday, June 26, 2011

In the Zone with Zee: Of Symbolism...

Hey beautiful people

Once more it's the 26th of the month, and your monthly slot with me Agony Zee is on the spot.

I received a query this month asking me about Symbolism - that thing we all hear about, that thing bandied about everywhere. But what is it exactly? I'm about to tell you!

Without further ado, here's today's query and answer.

And if you have a query you want answered, whether pertinent to writing or the writer's life, feel free to shoot me an email at


Dear Agony Zee,

I've read in quite a lot of places that we need to take note of Symbolism in our work. However, I have yet to come across a concrete example of what Symbolism is about, and how to use it in my writing.

Can you help?


Symbolize This


Dear Symbolize This,

Please bear in mind that the topic of Symbolism is a very vast one - to attempt to cover every aspect of it, one would write a 300-page tome!

But here's the explanation in a nutshell. I''m going to do my best.

Let's focus on the actual words we are using when writing.

I am often told to ‘paint’ with words. Whatever that means, I used to think. Well, it turns out that it isn’t so hard to grasp, nor is difficult to do, as long as you know how to do it.

Symbolism is in fact a way of providing more than meets the eye at first glance. Often, the symbols in a story are only caught upon second read and every successive reading brings a deeper picture.

This ‘layering’ effect can pertain to many aspects of the story. I’ll focus on two examples here – a ‘turn’ of the story, and the ‘canvassing’ of the theme.

Turn of the story:

Often, something that seems completely inconsequential might actually be hiding much more. This is most often grasped at the end of the story, or during a second read.

The example that comes to my mind pertains to the movie ‘Minority Report’. When Tom Cruise’s character sets out to prove he is innocent of the crime he might commit, looking for his minority report actually, the authorities unleash all their forces to find him. Little spider-like creatures are sent to scan the retina of every person, a retina being as unique as a fingerprint. The character gets a retina-change, and is told to keep the bandage on for 24 hours; otherwise the eye exposed to the light will become blind.
Now, at one point prior to this scene, the character meets a man on the street, who tells him that, In the land of the blind, the one-eyed is king.
Having to escape the creatures chasing him, he has no choice but to open one side of the bandage and let them scan his retina, whereupon they leave him alone. But, the eye is exposed to light before the 24 hours period, making him able to see with only one eye.
See how this plays in? The one-eyed is king – he is one-eyed, and he will win over the system.

You too can use avenues in your story to deepen and link back. The key is knowing your plot well.
Canvassing of the theme:

This is another aspect that can show a lot about your story without a need for you to overdo it. How? Know your theme, both for the plot and the characters.

Catch this theme, reduce it to one word, and then make word associations with it. For example – heroine is an artist. Theme broken into words: paint, color.

Paint – associated with: strokes, brush, canvas, mix, texture, dilution.
Color – associated with: tones, hues, unique descriptions.

How do you work all these in? Say for example you have a scene in the heroine’s POV where there is a sunset. She is an artist, and she will describe it using these very words you came up with in the associations. Why? Because she’s an artist, a painter, and she thinks and expresses herself like one.

If the theme of your story is loss, you use words associated with this, such as separation, poignant, dark, dismal, anger, sadness.

Used in context, these tools provide much room for a writer to expand and create a much better story. It isn’t simply laying down words then – it is all about coming up and using the very best word possible for your story.

Hope this helps!

Got a question for Agony Zee? Drop her a line at with your concern/issue/dilemma.

And my romantic suspense/Thriller Walking The Edge (Corpus Brides: Book One) releases tomorrow, June 27, with Noble Romance Publishing!


Brenda said...

Zee, you are a master!!! Fantastic examples! Thank you.

Zee Monodee said...

Lol Brenda! You're welcome! :)