poetry and prose about place

writing a novel – searching out the symbols

with 3 comments

When I wrote ‘Open to the Skies’, I used various ways to examine and tighten the plot.  One of these was to list the various objects in the book and consider them as symbols.


For my book ‘Crossing at a Walk’, I will use this process to help my eventual readers understand the progress of the story.

Mentioned once, an object, such as a candle, is just a candle.  Mentioned twice, it becomes a symbol, and the reader remembers the first mention of the object and draws understanding from the symbolism.    So a candle may be remembered for its light.  If, in a subsequent mention, someone blows out the candle, this may make a comment on the idea of communication. Passing a candle from person to person suggests the passing of stories between people.  The use of symbols deepens meanings and helps the plot reverberate throughout the writing.




Symbols operate like mini sub-plots throughout the story.  These mini-plots echo the main plot, and the objects change in a way that illuminates the main plot.  The mini-plots also tend to occur in three ‘beats’, providing a beginning, middle and end.  For example, an unlit candle becomes a useful source of light and is passed between people at a wake.


In this round of edits, I have tried to examine the use of symbols in my novel.  To do this, I built a list of the objects I have used as symbols.  Then I looked for their occurrence in the novel to see if I could identify three ‘beats’ and a mini sub-plot.  In some cases, I identified gaps – fixing these has helped me to solidify my overall plot.


This is a short version of my list of some of the objects/symbols in my book.  When I assembled the list, the items in red were missing and I had to fill out the story accordingly.  Perhaps you can use this method to help strengthen the narrative in your own fiction.


Object Symbol Occurrence   (page numbers) Mini-plot
coyote fear 87 104 120 coyotes howl in woods; they rattle some of the retreaters; Sadie considers it a failing of the retreat
church tower refuge 15 104 181 tower is off-limits to retreaters; becomes a place to sleep in safety; a place to write a poem
paper maché ball and chain servitude 39 58 180 Sadie is asked to provide a community service placement for Minnie, a trouble-maker; Minnie stores the ball and chain, a theatrical prop, on a library shelf during her stay; when the time is up, she destroys the ball and chain
rain a barrier 6 133 186 rain interferes with the retreat at every turn and ends up being the source of the flood that threatens the covered bridge
scale model of a covered bridge remembering 35 132 150 a scale model of the covered bridge is purchased at an auction; helps tell the story of a character in the novel; could become the only memento of the bridge
burning candles passing stories from person to person 58 140 188 candles are not allowed in the old church but later become a practical source of light during a storm and a way of passing stories about the covered bridge from person to person
loon communication 21 169 182 loon calls at retreat encourage people to talk to one another
stars, shooting stars hope 12 109 185 stars become inspiration for an artist, encouragement for a love-interest, and an inspirational setting for a wake


'a comet'


Copyright  2015  Jane Tims

Written by jane tims

April 1, 2015 at 7:27 am

3 Responses

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  1. These “writing” tips are really very helpful. Is there a way to sign up to get these posts?…Just read to the end and see I can check to be notified of new posts via email which I will do. What’s the course you’re taking?

    Liked by 1 person

    Anne Leslie

    April 1, 2015 at 9:23 am

    • Hi Anne. I am on Twitter @timsjane and you can follow me here on WordPress … It will give you the option of getting an email each time I post. I usually post between 7 and 8 in the morning on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I’m glad you find the posts helpful. I am following my own suggestions from my first book as I work on the second book! Jane


      jane tims

      April 1, 2015 at 10:00 pm

    • Hi again. I’m taking a course from Debora Carr at STU. It is almost over, but Deborah is giving a course at the Tatamagouche Center in June. She is an awesome teacher. Jane


      jane tims

      April 1, 2015 at 10:02 pm

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