The Symbolism and Motif Thesaurus

Each thesaurus collection is built with one concept in mind: creating powerful description. So far, we’ve looked at how to show emotion, how to create effective comparisons and contrasts, and how to weave the 5 senses into our settings. The Symbolism and Motif Thesaurus will take things a step further. Not only will this new tool help you think more carefully about what you choose to describe, it will also help you utilize symbolism to create a lasting effect on the reader.


By definition, a symbol in writing is a word, phrase, or object that has a deeper meaning. Motifs are also symbols, but they’re ones that recur in a body of work in order to reinforce an underlying theme (e.g., the feather in Forrest Gump as a motif for destiny). Symbolism connects to readers on a higher, more intuitive level, reinforcing an important message, emotion, or theme that the writer wants to convey.

This makes symbolism a natural ingredient in description, because it encourages us to think harder about what we choose to describe and why. One of the biggest things I try to drive home in my posts is that all description must work hard to earn the right to be included.

Symbolism, when used correctly, adds another layer of connection to our reader, pulling them more deeply to feel as they read, helping them better understand the plight of the protagonist.

Each entry of the Symbolism and Motif Thesaurus will center on a specific thematic idea found in today’s fiction. Redemption, loyalty, alienation, a fall from grace…these are examples of possible entries and will include possible descriptive choices to help reinforce each theme or idea to your readers. The choices will center on common descriptives rather than obscure ones to make sure the symbolism translates to today’s readers.

Symbols and motifs are powerful. They affect how we feel about something; this is why symbolism is used so often as a marketing tool. Think for a moment of a book cover and the role it plays in whether you take it to the checkout or not. Regardless of how you feel about Stephanie Meyer’s books, I don’t think anyone can deny the symbolic power of the Twilight cover. As writers, we need to infuse our desired meaning across to our audience in every manner possible…and in our writing most of all.

You can view all of the entries in this collection on this page. And here’s some good news! So you can reap the full benefit of this powerful tool, we’ve expanded the entire collection by 70% and integrated it into our online library at One Stop For Writers. Each entry comes with a long list of ideas for symbols and motifs, and we’ve included popular symbolism examples from literature and movies, as well. These entries have also been cross-referenced for easy searchability across all our other thesauri. To see a free sample of the updated Symbolism and Motif Thesaurus along with our other collections, pop on over and register at One Stop.

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Angela is a writing coach, international speaker, and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also is a founder of One Stop For Writers, an online library packed with powerful tools to help writers elevate their storytelling.
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[…] What is a Symbolism Thesaurus? […]

Becca Puglisi
9 years ago

Yay! So glad it’s coming in handy.

9 years ago

Just wanted to say how amazing you two are. A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. I could LIVE on this site 🙂 XOXO

Angela Ackerman
9 years ago

Wow! Thank you so much Laura Mae. Becca and I have worked hard on this blog because we understand just how much writers need to juggle to become successful. If the ideas we share here can improve description skills, we’re happy to contribute!

I am always happy to hear from people who our content helps. It reinforces that we’re on the right track with this blog. *dreams* Who knows, maybe someday we’ll get one of those shiny gold “Writer’s Digest 101 Best Websites” buttons!

Again, thanks for the kind comment–you made my day. 🙂


Laura Mae
Laura Mae
9 years ago

This whole website is without a doubt the most useful thing I’ve ever come across. It is ten times as good as any writing software, article, or book about writing, and I consult this blog whenever I need some inspiration or am trying to kick start passages of description (in particular using the symbolism thesaurus). Thank you so much for creating such a useful tool for writers, this is pretty amazing tbh.

6 years ago
Reply to  Laura Mae

I agree with you 200%, Laura Mae. I love these ladies! I’ve learned so much from them. I will get off the site and do some actual writing, anytime now:)

10 years ago

I’m really excited for this. The other thesauruses have been very useful and I’ve always kept them in the back of my mind while writing. I’m sure this one will be of even more help!

PJ Hoover
10 years ago

It sounds perfect! you never cease to amaze me.

10 years ago

I love all of your thesauruses( thesauri ? )and am really looking forward to this one. And I love the new look of your blog, it’s great!


Kathleen A. Ryan
10 years ago

This is very exciting news, Angela! Can’t wait. Your blog is always a wonderful source of information for writers. Thank you!

Deb Salisbury
10 years ago

I’m looking forward to these posts. I know it makes a novel richer, but I tend to overlook symbolism. Sigh.

10 years ago

I always love your posts! So valuable. I am so looking forward to this series. Truly terrific.

Jennifer M Nunes
10 years ago

Sounds exciting! Can’t wait to see the first installment!

10 years ago

Thanks everyone. I hope this works out as I envision. 🙂 Guess we’ll see!

Ray, I would love to tell you all about my future thesaurus collections, but then I would have to sic zombies after you to preserve the secret! And people who tell me they love what I’m doing make much better Musers than zombies. 🙂

Lost Wanderer, I agree that symbolism does often come naturally. What I hope is to create a space that gets us thinking more about how to make our description more intentional by thinking about how certain images affect us and convey messages.

Very excited for Thursday!

Karen Lange
10 years ago

Once again, you make me think! Love how you describe it as adding another layer. Thanks for sharing:)

Ann Finkelstein
10 years ago

I’m looking forward to it.

Bish Denham
10 years ago

Oh I am most definitely hyped about this one!

Tricia J. O'Brien
10 years ago

I’m excited to see what descriptive choices you come up with for the symbolic themes. This is fascinating, and you are so clever!

L.J. Boldyrev
10 years ago

I love this! Great addition, Angela. Thanks!

The Sesquipedalian
10 years ago

Great theme! I’ll definitely be following along with this series. Thanks!

Rebecca @ Diary of a Virgin Novelist

This should be interesting, especially since symbolism is what made a lot of us run screaming from wanting to be writers in the first place (high school English, anyone?).

Lost Wanderer
10 years ago

I love this theme. Symbolism, whether intentional or not, can be a powerful tool in writing. For most writers, I think symbols come naturally through the story, if there is consistency in the plot and theme, and when one realises it at the end of the first draft, it’s an amazing feeling.

Liana Brooks
10 years ago

I love this one! I’m looking forward to seeing what you do with it.

10 years ago

What are the other thesauruses you have in mind for the future?

Love what you are doing
Ray, Norway

Shannon O'Donnell
10 years ago

That is the theme I would have chosen. I’m really looking forward to this series, Angela. Yay! (I better get some more toner for my printer!) 🙂