Beyond Surface Level – 5 Ways to Use Symbolism

Imagine this: you’re reading a book or watching a movie, and suddenly you notice a symbol or metaphor that seems to be speaking directly to you. It’s like a secret code that reveals a character’s innermost thoughts and feelings, without them ever having to say a word. That’s the power of symbolism and metaphors, the hidden gems in a writer or filmmaker’s toolbox.

But how can they be used effectively without being too obvious or repetitive? The key is to employ a diverse range of symbolism and metaphors, each one unique and nuanced in its own way.

It’s like having an arsenal of secret weapons, each one tailored to the needs of the story and the characters involved. With this approach, you can create a world that is rich with meaning, and keep your audience hooked from start to finish.

Here are 5 Ways to Use Symbolism and Create a Rich Character:

#1 – Use Color Symbolism.
Have you ever been engrossed in a book or movie, only to suddenly realize that a character’s clothing, surroundings, or even the lighting all seem to be drenched in a particular colour?

You might think it’s just a coincidence, but it’s actually colour symbolism at work. Colours are like tiny mood rings for your story, reflecting different emotions and ideas to help convey a character’s inner state. And that’s just the beginning – there are so many creative ways to use colour symbolism in your storytelling!

One way colour can be used is to reflect a character’s emotional state. For instance, red can symbolize anger, passion, or danger, while blue can represent calmness, sadness, or melancholy. In “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald, green represents the elusive and unattainable American Dream that Jay Gatsby longs for, while also symbolizing his hope and envy.

Colours can also symbolize a character’s personality or traits. For example, black can represent mystery, power, or darkness, while white can represent purity, innocence, or goodness. 
In “Black Panther,” the colour purple is used to signify royalty and power, shown in T’Challa’s purple suit as the king of Wakanda.

With colour symbolism, the possibilities are endless. It’s like having a secret language to convey the deeper meanings and emotions of your story. So, the next time you’re writing or watching a movie, keep an eye out for the colours used and what they might represent. You’ll be amazed at the hidden gems you uncover!

#2 – Use Nature Symbolism.
Nature is a writer’s or filmmaker’s playground, full of metaphors waiting to be used to create magic on the page or on screen.
From a stormy sky to a gentle breeze, nature can be used to reflect a character’s inner state in countless ways. The possibilities are endless! 

In “The Secret Life of Bees,” Sue Monk Kidd uses the bees as a metaphor for the interconnectedness of life, which ultimately helps the protagonist grow and transform. 
Similarly, in “The Secret Garden,” Frances Hodgson Burnett uses the garden to represent the protagonist’s transformation from a selfish child to a kind and empathetic one. 

But nature can also be used to create contrast and tension in a story, as seen in “Life of Pi” by Yann Martel, where the protagonist’s fight for survival at sea is set against the backdrop of the ocean’s beauty and majesty. 

So the next time you’re writing or watching a movie, take a moment to appreciate the beauty and potential of nature symbolism. Who knows what kind of magic you might create?

#3 – Use Animal Symbolism.
Welcome to the fascinating world of animal symbolism in literature and film. It’s a powerful tool that can unleash a plethora of meanings and emotions, making the audience feel like they are part of the story.
Here are some captivating ways animals can reveal a character’s inner state:

Animals can embody a character’s personality or traits, acting as a visual cue for their strengths and weaknesses. A lion can roar with strength and bravery, while a snake can slither with deceit and cunning.
In “The Wolf of Wall Street,” Jordan Belfort is depicted as a predator, using his charm and wit to manipulate others and amass his wealth. His character is strongly linked to that of a wolf, a cunning and ruthless predator.

Animals can also be used to create metaphorical relationships between characters. A bird might symbolize a character’s desire to escape a difficult situation, while a snake might represent someone slowly creeping into the lives of others.
In “To Kill a Mockingbird,” the mockingbird represents innocence and purity and is also used as a symbol of the unjust persecution of Tom Robinson and Boo Radley. The use of this animal helps to emphasize the themes of the book and highlight the character’s experiences.

Lastly, animals can be used to create contrast and tension in a story. A gentle character can be juxtaposed with a fierce animal, or a cowardly character might be compared to a brave one.
In “Watership Down” by Richard Adams, the rabbits are used to create a contrast between the peaceful and idyllic world of the rabbits and the harsh and dangerous world of humans. The rabbits are constantly at risk of being hunted or killed by humans, which creates tension and suspense throughout the story.

#4 – Use Object Symbolism.
Object symbolism is a fantastic literary tool that can evoke powerful emotions and meaning in the audience.
Let’s explore a few ways that it can be used to enhance a character’s inner state:

Objects can be used to represent a character’s history, present, or future. For example, a well-worn journal can represent a character’s memories, while a futuristic gadget can represent a character’s aspirations.
In “Wuthering Heights,” Catherine’s locket containing Heathcliff’s hair serves as a poignant symbol of the deep love and connection she shares with him, despite societal barriers that would keep them apart.

Objects can also create metaphorical relationships between characters, much like a mirror reflecting a character’s emotions and actions or an object symbolizing a character’s internal struggle. 
In “Mary Poppins,” the umbrella she carries represents her magical abilities and her role as a caretaker and mentor to the Banks children. It also symbolizes the strong bond between Mary and the children, as she uses it to transport them to enchanting realms and keep them safe from harm.

Moreover, objects can create tension and contrast in a story. An object can serve to highlight a character’s poverty or simplicity when contrasted with luxurious ones, or an object can foreshadow significant events.
For example, the necklace in “The Necklace” by Guy de Maupassant symbolizes wealth and status. When Madame Loisel borrows it for a fancy ball, she creates tension with her husband as they struggle to replace it after it is lost. The loss of the necklace also highlights the economic and social struggles of the lower middle class, adding depth to the story.

#5 – Use Weather Symbolism.
Weather symbolism is a tool that authors and filmmakers use to convey meaning and stir emotions in the audience.
Here are some ways it can be used to reveal a character’s inner state:

Weather can mirror a character’s emotional state. Imagine a stormy day representing someone’s inner turmoil or anger, while a sunny day conveys happiness or peace of mind. 
In “A Streetcar Named Desire,” the sweltering heat of the New Orleans summer is a metaphor for the tension and conflict between the characters. The heat creates a suffocating atmosphere, reflecting the emotional intensity of their relationships.

Weather can also create metaphorical relationships between characters or events.
Think of a lightning storm symbolizing a sudden change or revelation, or a prolonged drought representing a character’s struggles or hardships. 
In “The Grapes of Wrath,” the drought that devastates Oklahoma farmland is a metaphor for the emotional and economic devastation experienced by the Joad family and other migrants during the Great Depression. The lack of rain symbolizes the barrenness of the land and the characters’ hopelessness in the face of poverty and hardship.

Weather can also set the tone and atmosphere of a story. Imagine a foggy night creating a sense of mystery and unease, or a clear and starry night generating a feeling of peace and wonder. 
In Stanley Kubrick’s movie “The Shining,” a snowstorm isolates the characters in the remote hotel, adding to the eerie and ominous atmosphere of the film.

Weather symbolism can give depth and richness to literature and film, allowing us to connect with characters on a deeper emotional level. Whether it’s a raging storm or a bright sunny day, the weather can speak volumes about the characters and the events unfolding around them.

In Conclusion – symbolism and metaphors can be used in a variety of fun and creative ways to reveal a character’s inner state. By using colors, nature, animals, objects, weather, metaphors, and symbolic actions, writers and filmmakers can add depth and complexity to their characters and stories. So next time you’re writing or watching a story, keep an eye out for these powerful tools and see how they’re being used to reveal the characters’ inner worlds.

Now it’s YOUR TURN –  What’s your favourite example of symbolism or metaphor in literature or film?

Would love to get your input in the comment box below.

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