(To survey other elements and author quotes, visit the Elements of Fiction home page)

“Symbols have to spring from the work direct, and stay alive. Symbols for the sake of symbols are counterfeit, and were they all stamped on the page in red they couldn’t any more quickly given themselves away.” Eudora Welty

“So are symbols failing their purpose when they don’t keep to proportion in the book.” Eudora Welty

“However alive they are, they should never call for an emphasis greater than the emotional reality they serve, in their moment, to illuminate.” Eudora Welty

“Symbolism. The systematic use of something in a narrative to represent something else—often the use of some concrete object to stand for an abstraction.” Madison Smartt Bell

“Imagery tends to evolve organically from the total context of all the meanings a story generates. What an image may suggest, represent or “mean” tends to be organically rooted in the world that the story creates. Symbols, by contrast, have a more fixed definition, which may be recognized outside the narratives in which they occur (while images are likely to be more wholly dependent on the stories which give birth to them).” Madison Smartt Bell

“Symbolism exists to adorn and enrich, not to create a sense of artificial profundity. None of the bells and whistles are about story, right? Only story is about story.” Stephen King

“Symbolism (and the other adornments, too) does serve a useful purpose, though—it’s more than just chrome on the grille. It can serve as a focusing device for both you and your reader, helping to create a more unified and pleasing work.” Stephen King