Symbolism Thesaurus Entry: Instability & Turmoil

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?

In Nature:

Rolling dark clouds
Thunder and lightning
Muddy ground
Churned up, silty rivers
Crashing waves
Dead fish/birds/debris thrown ashore
Crumbling cliffs, edges
An uprooted tree
Dry riverbeds
Flash flooding in deserts
Dust devils
Blowing tumbleweeds
Natural disasters (tornado, tropical storms, mudslides)
Birds flying off all at once in vast numbers
A forest devoid of animal presence, activity and sounds
Trees growing on the side of a cliff or precarious position
Forest Fires
Thin ice/cracked ice

In Society:

Riot gear
Sink holes
Barred windows/doors
Car alarms going off
Picket lines
Unemployment office
Cracks in the sidewalk
Bump roads, pot holes
Rotten fences swaying in the wind
Loose shutters, rotten steps or porch
A car struggling to turn over
Frost heaves in pavement
Car crashes
A shaky bridge
Slippery surfaces
Gangs & crime-riddled neighborhoods
Domestic violence
Legal separations
Raised voices behind a closed door
Protest marches
Stock market upsets and crashes
Business takeovers
Custody battles
Condemned buildings
Broken windows
Boarded up store fronts
Police tape
Overdue bills
Signs of pollution (garbage swirls, toxic lakes, etc)
Neighbors arguing
School fights
Opposing forces (on issues, agendas, etc)
Police or ambulance sirens
The smell of something burning

These are just a few examples of things one might associate with instability and turmoil. Some are more powerful than others. An earthquake is a strong symbol, and likely will not require reinforcement. However, a broken window may not foreshadow instability and turmoil on its own. Let the story's tone decide if one strong symbol or several smaller ones work the best.
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Terri said...

Love this. (And the picture of the lightning!)

Lisa Amowitz said...

Wonderful advice, Roni! Thanks! I do notice this in books I love and I'm sure I've done this myself, but I think I've been sort of semi-conscious on how much this device can move a narrative along.

Susanne Dietze said...

This was a timely post for me. What great ideas. Thank you!

Jenn Johansson said...

Very cool. I need to do more of this in my WIP. Thanks! Great post!

Indigo said...

A fountain of information. Thank you! (Hugs)Indigo

Deb Salisbury said...

I love this series!

Lisa and Laura said...

I love your posts about symbolism! It's something we rarely (consciously) incorporate into our won writing, so these posts always get me thinking.

PJ Hoover said...

I don't think I used your thesaurus nearly enough in my latest WIP. Must remedy that!

Angela said...

Thanks everyone. I'm glad this helps!

I think symbolism often comes naturally to some extent duing the drafting process, but then afterwards when we finish and see the theme emerge, it's always good to take another look through and see if we can change out some of our symbols with ones that enhance better, or to build slightly on what we have.

Symbolism should never be forced, but it's handy as well when looking at building a mood or emotion into the scene as well, as we often have emotional responses to certain objects. :)

Mary McDonald said...

Those are some great ideas! Thanks for that list.

Erica Chapman said...

Awesome! You seriously need to get this blog into a book! I would totally buy it ;o) Another great entry!

Have a great weekend ;o)

Jeanette Levellie said...

Excellent ideas. Thank you for your time and insight.

Blessed weekend,

Laura Pauling said...

Thanks for the list! It's amazing how we do some of this sub consciously. :)

Tara McClendon said...

This is another amazing entry. The tumbleweeds reminded me of the old Westerns--they always blew across a deserted street before the showdown.

Tabitha Bird said...

Great lists. I find linking inner turmoil to other things evokes beautiful images. Much like you suggest here :)

Roland D. Yeomans said...

Our subconscious is the soundtrack of our lives. Oh, and your profile picture reminded me : May is Zombie Awareness Month.

Check out Laughing Wolf's blog :

Have a great weekend, Roland

Jackee said...

"Let the story's tone decide if one strong symbol or several smaller ones work the best."

So very true! And I loved your list, so many and so ominious, all. It even opened up some ideas of my own.

Have a wonderful weekend, Angela!

Nora MacFarlane said...

Angela, FYI - I've linked your blog in my post for today. As always, you do a stellar job!


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