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?
Disclaimer: In researching things that are mysterious, I discovered that the idea is fairly subjective. What one person finds difficult to comprehend, others may believe in whole-heartedly without really having to try. So I’ve tried to limit this list to things that most people would agree are mysterious, and to things that are commonly associated with mystery. I’ve also omitted examples that people associate strongly with fear (ghosts, hauntings, exorcisms), since those things would be better classified as creepy or scary than as mysterious.
Clouds covering the moon
Life and Death
The Bermuda Triangle…
A magnifying glass
A red herring
A smoking gun
These are just a few examples of things one might associate with Mystery. Some are more powerful than others. A magnifying glass is a strong symbol, and likely will not require reinforcement. However, the Great Pyramids could stand for a number of different things and not foreshadow mystery 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.
Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling.
Becca Puglisi says
This was kind of a tough one, so I appreciate the suggestions!
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Julie Musil says
This is an awesome list! This might not apply to writing, but creepy music always adds mystery to a movie. Thanks, ladies!
Lisa Gail Green says
Always such great ideas!
Laura Pauling says
Awesome. I love deception and mystery so I had to click on these post right away. I wonder if I should include all the symbols in one chapter. Or is that too much? 🙂
Lenny Lee* says
wow you sure got a long list of stuff. i got that big snowman guy in one of my stories. i forget what you call him but hes pretty mysterious. im gonna copy down that list cause i like stuff like that in my stories.
Leslie Rose says
I’m always taken by a series of sun rays streaking down through the clouds. They remind me of a gateway.
Matthew Rush says
Are those the murder weapons from Clue? That is awesome.
Bish Denham says
Solar and lunar eclipses are mysterious….
Stina Lindenblatt says
Brilliant as always! 😀
That’s hard to add to, and I’d suggest only ‘darkness’, epsecially in the countryside, away from streetlights and in corners and behind doors.
Re Bigfoot and Nessie, If anyone has an interest in cryptids generally, there’s a long list at Wikipedia.