Every day we encounter objects, places and sensations that affect the way we think and feel. Writers can use this to our advantage when we plant symbols in the reader’s path that reinforce a specific message, feeling or idea.
Look at the setting and the character’s state of mind, 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?
The male emperor penguin: withstands brutal polar storms for four months and loses half its body weight while caring for its egg
Dolphins: when a pregnant dolphin goes into labor, the rest of the dolphins put themselves at risk by surrounding her to protect her from sharks while she gives birth
Spiders: In some species, the mother will surrender her body to her hatchlings to be eaten. The process is called matriphagy.
Giving a child up for adoption
Being a surrogate mother for no financial gain…
These are just a few examples of things one might associate with Sacrifice. Some are more powerful than others. An ancient altar is a strong symbol, and likely will not require reinforcement. However, a Medal of Honor might stand for a number of different things (courage, brotherhood, loyalty) and may not exemplify sacrifice 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.
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, a portal to powerful, innovative tools to help writers elevate their storytelling.
Mary Witzl says
Matriphagy…yuck! And to think I felt hard done by when my kids ate the last piece of cake or used my skirt as their own personal hand towel.
Angela Ackerman says
Thanks for the add, Bish! And thanks everyone for their comments! 🙂
Fantastic post, will definitely come in handy! Thanks 🙂
Jan Markley says
Wow, amazing list. Just don’t ask me to give up chai tea and sour ju jubes! Just saying …
Becca Puglisi says
Well, I must be honest (darnit) and admit that posting this on Veteran’s Day was a complete coincidence. Glad it worked out that way, though!
Shannon O'Donnell says
What a wonderful topic, Angela – and perfect for Veteran’s Day. Another winner! 🙂
What a perfect day for this post, and a perfect execution. Beautifully done!
Lenny Lee* says
hi miss becca! that was a pretty cool post. i didnt ever think much on symbols on sacrifice for my writing. i got a file of neat stuff for writing and im gonna put this in it.
…smiles from lenny
Matthew Rush says
I completely agree with Angela’s comment. I love how you tied this in with themes in nature, especially since both nature and sacrifice are both such beautiful, yet fragile things. Well done!
And nice ta meet ya Becca (I can’t believe I haven’t noticed your name on here before, sorry)!
Angela Ackerman says
Becca, you did a great job on this. I’ve wanted to do sacrifice for a long time now but couldn’t figure out the ‘nature’ aspect of it. YOU RAWK!
Very helpful, thank you.
Joanna St. James says
I did not know that about the Dolphins that is very brave.
Colene Murphy says
Awesome advice and neat nature facts I didn’t know! Great post!
I can always count on you for great writing ideas. I’ll be bookmarking this one. Thanks!
Jessica Subject says
Welcome back Becca! Great post. Going to need to get on Twitter so I can put via @(yourtwittername) 🙂
Bish Denham says
The male praying mantis sacrifies his life to mate with a female.
A century plant grows for years and years, blooms once, and then dies.
Elaine AM Smith says
Thank you! My MG had a symbol and I didn’t even notice! I’ll go up the ante on my symbolism 🙂
Deb Salisbury says
I hadn’t heard of matriphagy before. Shudder!