Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Wedding Rings, Christmas Trees, and Other Symbols

Susan Page Davis
By 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.

Click to Buy for $0.99
        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.

Click to Buy ebook for $0.99
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.



  1. Ooo... did I get to be first? Thanks for a neat reminder about another layer that can be added to my stories. I can't think of any examples, good or bad right now. Will try back later.

    Would love to be in the draw for any of your books,paper or electronic. Cool shameless plug too. Love to know about deals.

  2. I'd love a copy of one of your books! Let's see, I read a book where a sweater is reminiscent of the heroine's mother's love. When she puts it on she feels enveloped in her mother's love.

  3. Hi Susan,
    Admittedly, I'm a pantser, so when a symbol appears in a story, I'm usually surprised. And when it keeps appearing and the meaning gets deeper, it blows me away, lol.

    Your Christmas Tree story sounds like my kind of book. Thanks for your post!

  4. I'm currently reading a book in the Quilts of Love series and of course the quilt has a meaning behind it (as they all do in this series). This one is a ballad quilt so the song the quilt is designed for is the actual symbol.

    I would love a print copy of Frasier Island, thank you for the chance to win.

    Have a blessed day!

    Smiles & Blessings,
    Cindy W.

  5. One that comes to mind is the hand wave/wiggling fingers used by a couple of starcrossed lovers/friends whenever they meet at different points in time. It represented when they first met and is a symbol of their friendship and love for each other. =)

  6. Hi Susan,

    Finding Marie is one of my all time favorite stories. It's on my keeper shelf.

    Thanks for the reminder of how important symbolism is.

    I'd love to have my name in the pot for one of your books. Thanks for stopping by and sharing. Have a great day!

  7. How fun to be part of this collection! I love collections, Susan, and huge thank yous for being with us today!

    I'm tickled pink to be in the winter Homestead Brides collection. These wonderful glimpses into the past and an author's style are an awesome reader and writer opportunity to match up.

    Hey, I brought pumpkin cake today, time to get a little more pumpkin in our diet! As if, LOL!

    We're celebrating pumpkin everything in my house, so yes... Pumpkin lattes for all to go with the pumpkin cake!

  8. Symbols....

    Well dagnabbit, I must think of symbols.

    I think I use too many cute kids, dogs, kittens and ponies to make room for symbols, but you're absolutely right, symbols are a reader connection!

  9. Welcome to Seekerville, Susan! Thanks for the tips for using symbols in our stories. I love symbols and have used them in my stories with such things as a bottled remedy, peppermints, a dilapidated Victorian house, a necklace, a mansion, quilt and flowers. Some of these symbols were viewed the same throughout the story. Others changed as the character changed and then saw them differently. That was fun to do.

    Congratulations on publishing all those books. The Christmas Tree Bride sounds like a wonderful story with strong symbolism.


  10. I am loving the series for the 12 Brides of Christmas and I am looking forward to reading yours. One of them left me wondering about nutcrackers and in particular the bride nutcracker.

    I would love a copy of one of your books

  11. Hi Susan and welcome to Seekerville. Thanks for reminding us to use symbols. They are fun the play around with.

    I especially like to use animals in my stories as symbolic parts of the story.

    Have fun today.

  12. Ruthy, I'll take some of that pumpkin cake. Were the pumpkins from your garden?

  13. Welcome to Seekerville, Susan! I sometimes include symbols intentionally, but sometimes they're unintentional and someone points them out to me.

  14. Thanks, Deb! I'm always scared to be first at anything, so congratulations on your bravery.

  15. I'm trying to think of something symbolic in my books.

    Good grief, surely there's SOMETHING???!!! C'mon, Mary.

    Maybe I need coffee first.

    Symbolism--I love this.

  16. I can see that you have to get up early to keep up with the lovely comments on this site! Thank you all for the beautiful suggestions and memories. Terri, love the sweater connection. Lyndee, I understand. Usually, I don't purposely put symbols into stories, they crop up naturally. Cindy, the quilt books sound fun--and what a lot of symbolism a quilt could pack!

  17. You don't suppose I'm using gunfire when I should be using symbols do you?

    That's GOT to be wrong.

  18. Thanks for being on today, Susan. It's so fun being in this collection with you.

    I feel like we've come full circle back to our Barbour cozy mystery days. :) Those were fun.

  19. Ooooohhhh-- I LOVED Frasier Island. It's on my keeper shelf...but I somehow missed the other two in the series. Will have to rectify that. :-)

    Just finished The Patmos Deception by Davis Bunn. One of the characters, Dimitrius owns a fishing boat. Inherited really, from his fisherman father who is too sick to continue working. Dimitrius hates fishing but he loves all the memories of the times he spent on the ship with his father. So Dimitrius is tied to the ship -- though he has turned it into a tourist boat. But that ship comes to symbolize the deep father/son bond, the love of family and the lengths they will go to for one another.

  20. Thanks for your kind words, Jackie! Pumpkin cake, Ruth? What can I say? Bring it on! Maybe the pumpkin symbolizes something ...Janet, thanks for pointing out that symbols can change in significance. Love that thought! Cara James, I see you are with Lyndee and me--sometimes symbols surprise you. That's not a bad thing.

  21. SUSAN, thanks for this insightful post on symbols!

    I can relate to what LYNDEE said about being a pantser and having those symbols appear out of nowhere and slowly reveal their meaning and purpose in the story. Rain was symbolic of renewal and growth in one of my earliest books, and now it's becoming important for similar reasons in my current project.

    In other novels I've used broken pottery, a motorcycle, and a nativity scene. Often the symbolism wasn't consciously planned, but it's interesting to look back on the finished novel and see what was always there. Thanks for the reminder!

  22. Great example, Kav! And Mary, I've read lots of your books, and I think there are tons of symbols. You probably just don't think of them that way. I'm thinking of one in particular where I believe the land itself was a symbol (like Tara in Gone with the Wind)-- represents security, you know! But it could be anything from a guy's hat representing his authority to the tattered picture the character carries everywhere. Don't lose time worrying about it, though-- just write LOTS more books for us!

  23. Rain is a wonderful symbol, Myra. We often unconsciously use weather. Bright sun, unrelenting heat, brooding storm clouds. If well done, this can add a lot to your story.

  24. SUSAN!! How did you know I was sitting here worrying about it???


    Maybe in The Advent Box, my contribution to the 12 Brides of Christmas, the puzzle box the school marm is hiding gifts in is symbolic.

    Because like there are hidden depths to that box also the hero and his son need to open up, to let go of the pain they've kept close to their hearts.

  25. There, Mary, I KNEW you could do it. The puzzle box is perfect, and a beautiful symbol.

  26. Lovely, Susan! Thanks for being with us today.

    I've used a cross necklace, a gift from a grandfather that was lost...and is then found.

    Like Myra, a child's nativity set plays into my current release, Holiday Defenders.

    Also love light as a spiritual symbol.

  27. Debby, thanks. One thing I love about the Christmas season is that there are so many symbols available to use in our stories. In the 12 Brides of Christmas series (The Christmas Tree Bride is #8 in the series) each novella has a different symbol. Some are obviously Christmas-related, like mine, but others are more subtle, like Mary's puzzle box.

  28. Susan, God bless you for pretending my pumpkin cake symbolizes anything other than cake!!!!

    I'm still wracking/racking/fracking my brain (there must be some kind of symbol, but I really think I'm plugging babies into my symbol holes.

    Now you've made me T-H-I-N-K thought, and that's dangerous, honey.

    My next book will be riddled with symbols and it is okay to laugh at me for it!

    Mary, gunfire, yes. "Shots fired!" Your new motto.

  29. Good morning everyone!

    One of my heroines carry her Pa's bone-handled knife. He didn't use it save his own life, never fighting for anything. Now my heroine carries it and when she begins to doubt, she pulls that knife out. She's always determined to fight for what she wants no matter the cost.

    I don't know if this one counts, but I remember in Sarah Plain and Tall, she went on and on about the ocean. She talked about the wheat fields reminding her of the waves at home. Then her husband made the hay slide that had something to do w/the ocean. (I'm doing an awful job of explaining this!)


    From Maine to Kentucky! Whoa, that's a cultural clash. Do you miss the snow?

  31. I purpose to create symbols using the Rule of Three. Love symbols in fact.

    So Narnia!!

  32. Yes, Ruth, thinking is GOOD! :)
    Connie, love the knife, and I too remember Sarah P&T and the ocean. I agree, it was symbolic for her. Longings, peace, I'm not sure exactly what--it's been about 30 years since I read that one!
    Tina, you go, girl!

  33. Wonderful post, Susan! A symbol I read about recently was in Kristy Cambron's "The Butterfly and the Violin". There were several that work but the one that stuck out in my mind was the painting that both the hero and the heroine are looking for. It represents their ties to the past and finding it frees them both from what is holding them back. :)

  34. Tina, I felt the culture clash deserved a separate comment. May I vent? The snakes are poisonous here, did you know that? We traded blizzards for tornadoes, and moose for possums. I think we got the short end of the stick on that one. I'm learning to say "y'all" instead of "you guys," but it hurts. I really miss B&M Baked Beans (the factory's near the highway in Portland). Down here, I can get a million flavors of beans in a can (bourbon flavored beans, anyone?) but I can't find one that tastes like my mother's or B&M. Other things that are hard to find: Moxie, Necco wafers, WHITE cheddar cheese, Idared apples, buttercup squash (we have to grow our own--all they have in the store is acorn and butternut). But you know what? I love Kentucky and my new friends here. The people are wonderful. I have to say, the squirrels are very aggressive.

  35. Anna, thanks. That book is on my TBR list, and it sounds wonderful. I must get to it soon. So many books, so little time...

  36. Good afternoon, Susan! I love symbolism in stories, and you've inspired me to do better in my own writing. In Cynthia Ruchti's When the Morning Glory Blooms, she weaves the symbol of the morning glory throughout three generations. (I don't want to say what it symbolizes or I might spoil the story. :-) ) It was toward the end of the book that it all came together for me, and I had one of those most wonderful reader a-ha moments.

  37. Meghan, thanks--that is a great example of using a symbol to unify a plot. I've read one of Cynthia's books and loved it. Now I'll have to find this one.

  38. Ruthy in A Town Called Christmas, in the Hope for the Holidays-Historical Novella Collection
    I think your mountain lion attack is a symbol of ... thinking ... of well, of maybe

    That the lion shall lie down with the lamb and peace will reign on earth.

    No wait, you shot the mountain lion.

    I'll keep working on it.

    I just figured the food in your books turned up when you were typing and got hungry.

    So kinda a symbol.

  39. Now you're making me hungry too, Mary. Pass the pumpkin cake!

  40. A serving of pumpkin anything provides your day's ration of Vitamin A. I can rationalize anything...
    Susan, I'm from New Hampshire!
    I used clothing as a symbol in two-thirds of my Western Dreams trilogy. In "Trail," Caroline clings to her blue delaine ball gown as a representation of better times -- but when Michael is injured in the Blue Mountains, she rips it up to make a bandage. In "Town," the woman Pace saw murdered was wearing a blue plaid dress and when his enemies catch up with him for revenge years later, they tease him with scraps from the dress. If I keep this up I'm going to have to think of some kind of garment/talisman/archetype for the third book.
    I like symbols/cherished objects in other people's books because it ties them together.

  41. Wow, a series connected by scraps of torn clothing! Love it! Kaybee, I will be in NH very soon (sooner than you might think). Once more, into the snow!! Glad to "meet" another New Englander.

  42. "When Mortals Sleep" and the other two books in the series by Jack Cavanaugh. His best work in my opinion, and the piece that ties it all together is a pendant/charm thingy that Pastor Josef Bucher gives the members of his youth group before the war separates them and all you-know-what breaks loose. The people, then teens, hang on to their talismans through three volumes of the "Songs In the Night" series. A powerful image.
    Kathy Bailey

  43. Oh, my gosh you poor thing. Amazon has all those items you long for.Quickly, join Prime. You can get one day delivery.


    I moved to Arizona recently. No squirrels. My cats are bored out of their gourd at the window.

    Scorpions here too. Bleh.

    If anyone wants to use a scorpion bite in their novel I am willing to share my experience. hahahaha

  44. Tina! You speak to my heart. Why did I not think of Amazon? I'll bet they DO have white cheddar!
    I read an article once about guys who make their living catching and selling scorpions to be made into souvenirs. Key chains, jewelry ...
    Not the sort of thing I'd like to wear as an accessory! Our cat loves to sit on the porch and watch the squirrels, but if she steps off, they zip up a tree.

  45. I have Pumpkin Pie Muffins in case you run out of cake.

  46. Disturbing mental image of a squirrel clawed onto Susan's face.

    Aggressive Squirrels...that would actually make a good name for a rock band.

  47. Oh, my, and they actually have BIG ones here called Fox Squirrels, which we did not have in Maine. They aren't really as big as a fox, but bigger than reds and grays. They haven't attacked me personally yet. Or the cat, Sora. They just laugh at her from the nearest branch.

  48. Welcome, Susan! Great post on symbolism. I have fun using it in my stories. Although I don't think I've used it every time. Whenever I use it, I also try to use the rule of 3 and use it in 3 places.

  49. I've been away for a week and am glad to be back! I've missed all of you and have barely been able to check in.

  50. I have your Christmas story on pre order. Have been loving the books.

    Ruthy in A Town Called Christmas you have a sampler made by the mother. That is symbolic of love in my eyes. (The one I made was in love for mum). It was also referred to more than once. Also having a Christmas tree.

  51. Jenny, great to see you here. Mega thanks for pre-ordering The Christmas Tree Bride. If you are picked as a winner, I'll send you one of my other ebooks. That goes for anyone in this drawing. I'll give you a choice of several. Hope you're enjoying spring in Oz. Missy, I hadn't thought of the Rule of Three applying to symbols until you gals mentioned it here. Thanks for making ME think.

  52. In between my two jobs again, so not a lot of time to think of symbols. But I agree with everyone who said Christmas stories have a lot of symbols.

    I would love to be entered into the drawing.

  53. I might have to figure out how to add something that stands for something else. Hmmm.

    I'd love to win a copy of your Christmas Tree book :)

  54. I'm late to the party! By I have good reasons, imho. Mom and I are flying out first thing in the morning (we leave the house at 3:00a.m.). At 4:00 p.m. I did not have any confirmations of our travel insurance, and due to the fact that I entered the wrong confirmation code I kept getting a message that my trip had ended. I did have my phone and Internet connected in Phoenux, mind you. (You see where my priorities are). I did get all confirmations done, and all is well. I'm doing all those fun last minute chores such as cleaning floors, laundry, dishes ... Oh and making Christmas cards to go out. Mom did the fridge. Now I'm off to...
    (Authors, if you use my incidents, please send me a copy of the novel). Symbols? Not sure, but would love a copy of one of your books!

  55. I found your Christmas tree bride to warm my heart. Stagecoaches & blizzards, really enjoyed reading how the struggled through.. please enter me :)
    dkstevensne AT outlook DOTcom

  56. Sounds like everyone is thinking hard about symbols and stories. This is a great group!