Layer story’s imagery with symbolic meaning

Descriptions and imagery can carry additional levels of meaning by being presented as figurative language. Such wording compares two items, usually by giving one symbolic meaning.

For example, in Abbie’s presence lingered in his mind like dew atop grass on a pleasant morning, the character’s thoughts about the woman are compared to dew atop grass on a pleasant morning, inferring that he finds her lovely. The image of dew atop grass on a pleasant morning is symbolic. The reader can infer that the character is enamored – and it’s much more vibrant than simply writing, He found himself enamored with Abbie.

There are many kinds of figurative language, but three reign over all others, if only because they are more commonly used:
• Simile – This occurs when two objects are compared by using the word “like” or “as”: His forehead was heavily creased, like an overfolded map (The forehead creases are compared to that of an overfolded map.).
• Metaphor – Slightly more sophisticated than a simile, a metaphor makes a comparison without using “like” or “as”: Lyle drooped as Peter interrupted him again. Just like my brother, Lyle thought, always slamming a door in my face (Being made to feel unimportant is compared to having a door slammed in one’s face).
• Personification – This technique gives human traits to a nonhuman object or a concept: The flowers danced in the wind (The flowers’ movement is compared to dancing, a human activity).

Such connotations can carry great emotional weight. That’s because through figurative language a writer either infers an emotion by giving it concreteness via the comparison or by presenting an evocative image that goes beyond the word’s literal meaning. Typically, unlike things are compared, which if it’s an apt comparison, bolsters the image’s vibrancy.


My name is Rob Bignell. I’m an affordable, professional editor who runs Inventing Reality Editing Service, which meets the manuscript needs of writers both new and published. I also offer a variety of self-publishing services. During the past decade, I’ve helped more than 300 novelists and nonfiction authors obtain their publishing dreams at reasonable prices. I’m also the author of the 7 Minutes a Day… writing guidebooks, four nonfiction hiking guidebook series, and the literary novel Windmill. Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published.