Symbolism and Motif Entry: Death

Every day we interact with objects, places and sensations that affect the way we think and feel. This can be used to the writer’s advantage by planting symbols in the reader’s path to reinforce a specific message, feeling or idea.

Look at the setting and the character’s state of mind, and then think about what you want the reader to see. Is there a descriptive symbol or two that works naturally within the scene to help foreshadow an event or theme, or create insight into the character’s emotional plight?

In nature:

A fallen tree
A dead (standing) tree
Rotten tree stump
Animal bones
A bleached skull…

In Society:

Passing a roadside shrine (cross, plastic flowers, etc)
A junkyard
A burned out light
Broken glass
Black smoke
A condemned building…

These are just a few examples of things one might associate with Death. Some are more powerful than others. A hearse driving by your MC as she walks home from work is a strong symbol, and likely will not require reinforcement. However, a bitter winter wind ripping at your MC’s clothes and freezing her cheeks may not foreshadow death on its own.Let the story’s tone decide if one strong symbol or several smaller ones work the best.

Symbolism is a universal language that can add great depth and meaning to your story.

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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18 Responses to Symbolism and Motif Entry: Death

  1. darien says:

    This is so timely for me–my first book is about surviving suicide, and I think I might look at the manuscript again with some of these in mind. Will be good prompts for the MS I’m working on now. You guys are such a gift to us!

  2. Kate says:

    This is brilliant! Thanks, Angela!

  3. Angela says:

    Thank you everyone for your comments and contributions to the list. I hope that this thesaurus will help us all think about creating more meaningful description by utilizing symbols, big and small, as we write.

    Stina, thank you so much for the recommendation! That looks like a fantastic contest and I encourage everyone to enter. Having a pro analyze our social networking mediums and goals is pure gold!

  4. I entered this contest and recommended your blog. You might have seen Greg Pincus’s interview last week on Market My Words last week.

  5. Erica says:

    Wow. What a great addition to the line-up. Death – wow. Yeah, great job!

    Looking forward to more ;o)

  6. Kara says:

    Love the list, thanks!

  7. One of my favorite pasttimes as a teen was to spot the symbolism in books. It’s funny that I forgot about that as an adult writer. Thanks for the wonderful reminder!

  8. Mary Witzl says:

    I like these too and look out for them when I’m reading; they make all the difference. Dead flowers and saplings are my favorite.

  9. These are so good. Such vivid attention to detail!

  10. Rena says:

    Great list. Thank you!

  11. PJ Hoover says:

    This is amazing, Angela! You are fantastic a million times over!

  12. Very cool! thanks for the list.

  13. Death’s a good one to use symbolism for because it’s a subject that requires subtlety.

    Great list. I’ve also heard that a rooster crow at midnight symbolises coming death.

  14. ERIN COLE says:

    A very helpful post – I find that it is often the symbolism I remember most in a story.

  15. Bish Denham says:

    Oh I KNEW I was going to love this! Way to go Angela.

  16. There are some really awesome symbols of death in those lists, Angela. Maggots…ewww. The hollowed stare of a junkie, spray of feathers. Powerful stuff.

    Thanks again! You are a genius. 🙂

  17. Danyelle says:

    These are awesome, Angela! I can’t wait to see what you do with the new thesaurus. 🙂

  18. I really enjoy these Thesaurus posts. Thanks for sharing!

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