Symbolism is a literary device that uses one thing to represent something more abstract. I have intentionally used symbolism before in my stories, but sometimes they appear on their own. In the last month, this happened twice in my current project.

First, a picture of a baby dragon with a teddy bear inspired me to have the main character find a stuffed toy animal similar to one she had had before her parents disappeared and give it to the baby dragon. Instead, I decided to give the stuffed toy animal to the main character as the only object she has from before her parents disappeared and left her orphaned, an object that becomes a symbol of her parents. The effect was immediate and remarkable by revealing a new layer to the character’s personality and internal life, and a new method of exposition as she talks to the toy.

Second, in a scene when a teacher tests the main character to evaluate if she has lost proficiency in skills after a prolonged interruption in her training, she is asked to perform a soliloquy from a play, which meant the scene needed a soliloquy for her to perform. I explored several possibilities before settling on a speech about the character portrayed in the play being a symbol that inspires others against oppression. Even though the main character doesn’t’ know it, she is seen by others as a symbol for their own resistance to oppression. Thus, the soliloquy introduces the idea of there being such a symbol. The trick is to have that symbol drive that particular plot thread without having the main character realize she is the symbol.

This is hard work, but it’s fun.