According to Webster, Symbolism is the art of using symbols especially by investing things with a symbolic meaning or by expressing the invisible or intangible by means of visible or sensuous representations.
Let's break it down. Using symbolism in our stories gives the reader clues about something. Little hints that affect the reader...and here's the best part...usually, they don't even realize it.
Sort of like brainwashing. But in a completely good way. It sets the stage for whats to come.
A while back I heard Dennis Hensley speak about the importance of symbolism in our writing. The idea intrigued me. Here are a few of the ways he suggested using symbolism to deepen our stories.
Most of us probably have heard that certain colors trigger different emotions in us. White = life, black = death, purple = royalty, gold = wealth.
But did you know that green = rebirth, pink = femininity, yellow = enlightenment and red = danger or emotional pain?
Also, interesting is that the colors orange and blue have almost no impact on a reader.
When naming your characters you want to connect the fictional character to the reader. Give them a bond. Nick names are a great way to do this. If you hear someone call your hero "Slim" won't you naturally assume that he's tall and skinny? And something like "Tex" just screams cowboy! It's a great way to describe something or someone without actually having to do it.
Also consider the regional implications. What do you think of when you hear the name "Bubba"? (Okay, after you think Gump.) Bubba is a totally southern nickname, right? So this character must have some connection to the south.
Use names to your advantage.
Another area where you can use symbols is with objects or props relating to your characters. Indiana Jones wouldn't be Indiana Jones without his hat and whip. Mary Poppins wouldn't be Mary Poppins without her umbrella. And Clark Kent wouldn't be Clark Kent without his glasses. (Although, that one drove me crazy. I'm just saying...)
There are many different ways we can use the readers' subconscious to help move along our stories. Look for little ways to incorporate a color, prop or nickname to strengthen your story.
Do you use symbolism in your writing? Are you intentional about it? Can you think of any other ways in which symbolism might help our stories?