Imagery is the most important element of descriptive writing, since it makes possible the communication of what one sees, hears, feels, smells and tastes.  An IMAGE is an expression in words of a sense experience.  Settings of stories are made up of sense perceptions. Images are more than a descriptive function; they also convey feelings to the reader and create an atmosphere appropriate to the major elements of the story – plot, character and theme.  Images can convey strong feelings such as inhibition, tension, passion etc.

Dark colors convey a feeling of doom or danger.  A red rose can be more than part of a garden description, it can be used as a symbol of beauty or love. Darkness can be literal or suggest evil.  The act of planting and caring for flowers can be symbolic of maternal instincts.


A SYMBOL is an emblem or sign representing something else through association. For example, an insurance company uses the Rock of Gibralter to suggest reliability.  A film studio is represented by Liberty holding the Torch of Truth etc.    John Hersey’s novel, “A Bell for Adano” shows the human need for a symbol of peace and sanity, when the people of the Italian town prefer a replacement for the bell which the Fascists took from  the Mayor’s bell tower, to food and clothing.

A symbol can have different meanings to different people and you must think through your symbolism before planning your story and know how and when to introduce it.  A bridge may represent the transition between ages, between wealth and poverty, enslavement and freedom.  A bridge was used as a symbol in “Land Without Moses” by Charles Curtis Munz – about the oppressed sharecroppers and their toll bridge (symbolising that the down-trodden must pay a high price to achieve liberty).

“The bridge Over the River Kwai” suggests British superiority and knowhowm transforming defeat into victory.  Thornton Wilder’s “Bridge of San Luis Rey” says in its last line: “There is a land of the living and a land of the dead; the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.”

Effective symbolism must also be emotional; universal enough to apply to the reader’s problems; subtle but unmistakable; graphic and vividly described; planted early in your story, then referred to later; important to the plot and solving a crucial problem.

Many authors make effective use of symbolism.Paul Gallico used “The snow Goose” to represent a staunch spirit in a crippled body.  Poe used a raven to symbolise death; Coleridge an albatross for conscience; Shelley freedom with a skylark and Maeterlinck chose a Bluebird for happiness.In the beautiful O. Henry story “The Last Leaf”, a girl with no will to live likens her life to the last ivy leaves clinging to the wall outside her window. When the last leaf falls, an artist neighbor paints a leaf on the wall outside her window, and belkieving it has clung on bravely through the storm, she recovers her will to live.


Happy writing!  You can buy my new novella “Searching for Susan” on Amazon or by contacting me at




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