|Susan Page Davis|
Symbolism in literature has been around almost as long as literature has. Simply put, a symbol is an object that stands for something else, usually something intangible. For instance, newly blooming flowers might symbolize hope. Large birds circling overhead hint at death or evil.
Some symbols are obvious, some are more subtle. The Bible is full of symbols. The crown symbolizes the king’s power. The Old Testament sacrifices symbolized future redemption through Christ.
We can use symbols effectively in our stories too.
First let me say, you don’t have to have symbols in your story. It’s okay. But often, we put them in without thinking about it, as a natural part of the story. They don’t have to be complicated. A necklace the heroine received from her mother might symbolize the mother’s love. A snow shovel loaned to a neighbor could symbolism an offer of friendship.
In one of my first books, Frasier Island, the main character wears his wedding ring around his neck with his dog tags. The ring is a symbol of his ties to the past. George and the rest of the world are in danger. When he realizes he can save the day, he is willing to destroy the ring in order to do that. Only then is he ready to move on.
By the way, Mary told me shameless promotion is allowed here, so let me tell you Frasier Island is a 99-cent e-book right now.
My new novella, The Christmas Tree Bride, has a theme of longing, nostalgia, and realization. All of this is symbolized by the tree itself.
In the story, Polly Winfield’s desire for a Christmas tree stands for more than that. Since she moved with her family to the plains of Wyoming, where suitable evergreens are hard to come by, she has developed a homesickness, though she remains cheerful and helpful to her parents in running the stagecoach station.
A friend in Massachusetts sends Polly a postcard with a picture depicting a decorated Christmas tree, which sparks her longing for one. Her family had one every year when they lived in New England. The sight of the card reminds Polly of happy Christmases with family. Deeper than the tree itself, she longs for the sense of security and being loved that always surrounded the tree when she was younger. Polly doesn’t voice this directly, but it’s evident in her reminiscing.
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Polly asks her father to get her a tree, but he says it’s too much trouble and he doesn’t have time. Polly’s wistfulness is contrasted with shotgun rider Billy Clyde’s lack of memories, as his own family never had a tree at Christmas. This only makes Polly sad. She wants everyone at the station to have the chance to enjoy fellowship around a yule tree.
The hero, stagecoach driver Jacob Tierney, is attracted to Polly. He agrees to look for a tree for her as his run takes him into different terrain, where trees are more plentiful. Achieving that goal proves difficult, and Polly’s tree almost becomes sacrificed in an emergency, but finally it arrives at the Winfield station, a bit droopy and bedraggled.
On Christmas Day, the happy gathering around the tree, now resplendent in its garb of homemade ornaments and popcorn strings, climaxes the story. The symbol and the abstract have merged: Polly has her tree and her desire of a happy family around her and a promising future.
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I’m giving away three books today. The three winners may choose either of the e-books mentioned here (Frasier Island or The Christmas Tree Bride), or a paper copy of Frasier Island or another book in this series (Finding Marie or Inside Story). I’m sorry, I do not have paper copies of The Christmas Tree Bride at this time.
So…to get things rolling and be entered in the drawing, tell me either a symbol in a story you read that worked for you, or one that was handled in such a clunky manner it made you want to scream. “It was a dark and stormy night,” and all that!
~~~~~~~~~~~Susan Page Davis is the author of more than 50 novels and novellas in the historical romance, mystery, and suspense genres.
She is the mother of six and grandmother of nine.
A Maine native, she now lives in western Kentucky with her husband Jim.
Visit her website at: www.susanpagedavis.com, where you can sign up for a free book drawing, subscribe to her newsletter, and read a short story on her Romance page, besides seeing all her books.