On The Craft: Exploring Themes and Symbols

Exploring Story Themes & Symbols

Another element of a story is its Theme

Simply put, the Theme is why the plot happens.

Theme can take a story from the commonplace to the extraordinary.

Theme is the exploration and understanding of emotions that impact both the characters and the reader on a universal level.

Breaking down Themes: Beyond the personal, emotional level.

Theme as defined by Fiction First Aid, Raymond Obstfeld

  • Plot is what happens
  • Character is whom the plot happens to
  • Theme is why the plot happens

A Universal Theme impacts the reader on an intellectual level which may stimulate the reader to examine his/her own view of self or the world at large.

A Universal Theme patterns the plot in a way that has something in common with readers: love, desire, hope, relationships, fear and death.

→Stories that arouse only emotion are Melodramas which tend to be superficial, not memorable. The reader may feel manipulated.

Exploring Story Symbols

Symbolism is a method by which the writer weaves the thread of the theme throughout the story by using one or more symbols. Sometimes writers refer to a reoccurring symbol as a ferryman, something that carries the writer through the story.

Symbols, used effectively, raise the level of a theme. Symbols can infuse the story with nuance and texture. However, the overuse of symbols can become problematic. Again, the reader may feel manipulated.

Breaking down Symbols:

  • Environmental Symbols: The writer uses, or references weather, terrain or geographical symbols to show chaos, upheaval, serenity, etc.
  • Animal Symbols: The writer uses animal behaviors to relate to human instincts and behaviors.
  • Homage: Here the writer openly references a well-known plot. The reader is informed the structure will be similar as the writer overlays a different story but in the same vein: satire, mythical, comedic etc.
  • Character Names: The writer references the obvious by using Biblical names, Literary names, or names from Greek and Roman mythology.
  • Title: The writer may use quotes from important literary works, the Bible, songs or art.
  • Settings: Big or small bodies of water, rivers, streams. Wooded areas, mountains, forests, Deserts, etc. Places of business, educational, governmental or geographical or even picket fences.
  • Objects: Household items, foods, clothing, vehicles, books, etc.

An artfully incorporated theme unifies the plot elements.

The depth of the story is enhanced by its theme and its symbols

~ ~ ~


#Writephoto Realm of Dreams in Haiku’s

I am beckoned

Into the realm of dreams

where visions await

      * * *

Here castles of yore

Where their mysteries unfold

Yearning, I follow

* * *

Oh, candle so bright

show me with your knowing light

my heart’s desire

* * *

Unbroken lines

of loves lost to memory

here to remember










For Ani’s Advent Calendar

Though I may not have a tail,

I do have a tale to tell

It’s fur Ani’s Advent Calendar, and well

I think that’s swell.

So here’ my story to tell:

Once upon a Christmas night

beneath a tree so bright

there was an unexpected sight

that gave me quite a fright

between and betwixt

a mound of ribbon and bows

there arose, a button nose

and a pinkish tongue

that quite suddenly, sprung

into my arms . . .

she was brown and white

and such a delight

I named her Wiggles

because she made me giggle

I knew one day

she would go away

yet, even after all these years

she still remains

that sweet little doggy

who stole my heart










The House of Christmas Past

A Short Story in Chapters: Chapter 1 The House

A cool wind borne by dark clouds buffeted the trees. Melody Monroe shivered in her thin hoodie pullover. She let her heavy backpack slide from her shoulders to the cracked, disjointed sidewalk. She’d taken two city buses and hiked a couple of miles to get to the middle of nowhere. She kicked at the wrought iron gate in frustration. Hot anger spiked in her chest. Was this someone’s idea of a joke? If it was, it was a bad one. The letter, addressed to her, had been printed on fine parchment. The legal firm’s heading was embossed in gold. The voice on the phone, a lawyer with a decidedly clipped, though professional tone, had assured her a heretofore unknown relative had left his estate to her. She’d signed the agreement—unusual as it was—and mailed it the next day. She’d been giddy. It seemed as if a fairy godmother had smiled down on her.

In short order, she’d returned the key to her dingy apartment, boxed up her scant array of belongings and mailed them to the address listed on the letter. The address itself had enchanted her: 12 Christmas Park, Marsh Isle, Georgia. She remembered the Christmases of her childhood, the ones before her mom had died. Her mom had had a way of making even their meager holidays, special. The holidays afterward, not so much. Over the ensuing years, she’d been shuffled from one foster home to another. She was nineteen now and living on her own.

And now, she was officially homeless. No way was she taking up residence in the monstrosity looming beyond the gate. It looked like the shell of what might have once been a grand house, a mansion of sorts. For all she knew, the place was haunted. If it wasn’t, it should be.

“You Miss Monroe?”

Melody nearly jumped out of her skin. He’d come up behind her stealthy as a ghost. He was tall, about her age or a bit older. His hair was dark. His eyes reflected the deep green of the trees and marsh surrounding the place. She must have dipped her chin in answer to his query because he answered her unspoken thought.

“It’s not as bad as it looks, Miss Monroe,” he bent to take her backpack. “The place is hooked up with everything, and I’ve stocked the frig. I’m bunked in the cottage outback. We better get a move on. Looks like the storm’s gonna break any minute.” He hefted her backpack and headed past the wrought iron fencing. “There’s a path here. Follow me. That gate hasn’t opened in years.”

She didn’t care about the rusted, crooked gate. The only thing she cared about was how to get the next bus out of here.  Her expression must have conveyed her thoughts because his next words dashed any hope of that.

“The buses only run on Wednesdays and Mondays. Pop’s got the truck. He won’t be back until Tuesday, most likely. Got business in Savannah.”

“Wh-what?” she stuttered. “Are you kidding me? That’s five days from now.”

“No ma’am. I don’t kid.”

Heavy droplets splattered the sidewalk. A boom rumbled overhead. She eyed the dark, threatening clouds. Left with no other choice, Melody grudgingly followed him. Dread buried itself in her chest. She was going to be stuck here for days—miles from anywhere with some guy who said he lived here. Maybe he was lying. Maybe he was a vagrant, a shiftless nobody who moved in with no one the wiser. Dark images flooded her mind. He hadn’t even told her his name.

Once again he answered her unspoken question. This was getting weird.

“I’m Fitzpatrick, the new caretaker. You can call me Shane, if you’re so inclined. My pop’s been taking care of this place for years for Mr. Reginald Monroe. First heard of you a few weeks back, Miss Monroe. Took us by surprise, you know.

No, she didn’t know. She should have asked a few pointed questions…

(To be continued…)

Do It Yourself Line Editing

Do It Yourself Line Editing

But first, set your manuscript aside for a few days so you can view it from a fresh perspective.

Line editing differs from copy editing in that it is less about mechanics and more about style. It is about finessing your prose. A great story can be swamped with inconsistencies, ineffective word choices and unwieldy sentence structure.

Here are 4 guidelines for line editing:

#1 Your Prose: Are your words precise? Strong? Have you eliminated cliches? Have you used specific language to bring the situation to life?

#2 Mood and Tone: During dramatic scenes, have you set the right tone? The right mood? Have you been consistent with your characters’ demeanor? Does their behavior make sense? Is the time period and environment consistent with the characters’ dialogue?

#3 Major Plot Points: Have you included significant explanations or scenes when leading up to a major plot point? Are they clear enough to move the story forward for the reader?

#4 Excess Word Usage: Is your syntax clean and concise? Do you find sentences that are unnecessarily long? To make the reading of your sentences easier, break up sentences or condense the language. Have you overly depended on a thesaurus for descriptions?

Though line editing is subjective, these simple guidelines will help you clarify your particular writing style.





The Magpie #Photowrite

I follow the trail of feathers,

black, glistening

and there she is, the magpie

flopping  among the leaves

struggling with a broken wing

Ah, I think, it’s you,

you who’ve invaded my

songbird nest

your belly full of sweet eggs

she buries her head beneath a wing

you can’t hide, you ravenous thing

I angle away

let the predators have her, I think

as the leaves rustle with

the frantic beating of her heart

It’s her beating heart that

pulls at mine

In one fell swoop

I scoop her up, cradling her

in my palms even while she

stabs my skin with her beak

Calm now, I coo to her, calm now

her dark eye blinks

she settles, nestles in

all creatures, great and small, I recall

All right, God, you have your reasons

they are not mine to question

she sleeps in my palms

as if she’s home and safe

and so she is.