I'm nearly at the end of my story, and I'm struggling to finish it. Ashley (male) and Anna were best friends since childhood, until they grew apart and didn't talk to each other for many years. When they are both in their thirties, they meet again and go on a trip to Ireland together, initially hesitant but gradually getting to know one another again, solidifying a new friendship.

At the end, I want Ashley to present Anna with a gift that symbolises their new friendship, but I'm absolutely stuck for ideas. Their relationship isn't romantic, so something lovey-dovey isn't appropriate. It should be something meaningful.

How could I make this gift symbolise their new friendship in a way the reader can understand? What techniques could I use to bind one item to this meaning or to any symbolism in a story?

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    Though I find this question interesting, I think it lacks generalization in order to fit this page's standards. I would suggest something on the lines of "How to bind a particular item or symbol to a person or a relationship in a story, and/or how to decide such a symbol". Feb 23, 2014 at 18:38
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    Hi Leo! I see your difficulty, but Writers.SE makes a point of not telling writers what to write. Basically, brainstorming sessions would work very poorly (see, for example, how you've instinctively explained how you'll be using voting and acceptance, since the usual definitions work poorly).
    – Standback
    Feb 23, 2014 at 19:06
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    Closing for the moment. But if you can tackle this from another, more general, less "give me ideas for this detail" direction, then I'd be very pleased to reopen.
    – Standback
    Feb 23, 2014 at 19:07
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    I used @MarcWolvesheir's edit, with minor tweaks so it felt like my question, but I liked the edit. Does the rewording work better?
    – Lou
    Feb 23, 2014 at 20:26
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    The only way to make the reader understand this symbol is by introducing it during the story. It doesn't matter what it is, but it must have meaning to the protagonists, then the readers will get it. It can even be a rusty nail. If Ashley stepped into it and Anna removed it and attended him, that could be a symbol of their friendship. Feb 24, 2014 at 15:13

2 Answers 2


When you want to use a gift as a symbol, then it should be an object that has meaning to the protagonists.

It only has meaning to the protagonists when it has meaning to your story. You should have introduced it during your story, the protagonists used/handled/interacted with it somehow.

If it has meaning to the story, the reader understands the symbol automatically.

The symbol does not need to be something fancy. It just must be special to Ashley and Anna.

Even a rusty nail would serve. If Ashley stepped into it during the story and Anna removed the nail, cleaned and dressed the wound, that nail could become a symbol of their friendship.

Ashley could say "Thank you", Anna shrugs and says "That's what friends do". Then you have linked the rusty nail to their friendship. And the reader would understand the symbol when the rusty nail is the gift at the end of your story.

  • The protagonists do not have to have literally interacted with the gift. If they used to eat cake when they met, baking a cake will be a gift that symbolizes their friendship, although they have never seen that particular cake before. Or if they used to talk about going on a trip together, one of them could buy the tickets and make a gift of them to the other. They had never taken such a trip before (no interaction with the trip), yet the reader will understand the symbolism.
    – user5645
    Feb 25, 2014 at 14:33
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    @what But if they leave the cake out in the rain, they'll never have that recipe again. Feb 25, 2014 at 22:05
  • @JohnSmithers Theoretical +1 as I don't have enough reputation to vote (wishing reputation was distributed across all SE sites.) I think embedding a significant item early on is a good idea. I think I want Ashley to write a book for Anna and present it to her - having given up writing early on, perhaps.
    – Lou
    Feb 25, 2014 at 22:37
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    Typical examples I know from real life are: a self-made book with a self-written story or photographs showing the friends; a painting; a self-knit pullover or scarf; a coffee-mug with photos of the last trip; a t-shirt with a personal phrase or artwork or signatures of the whole team; CDs with personally selected music. Most people I know create an artwork or a usable object that will accompany the friend through his or her life. They don't usually select nails or other stuff from their time together, but create something new. That is: they put real thought and effort into the present!
    – user5645
    Feb 26, 2014 at 6:10
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    That's what I've decided to do in the end. I'm venturing slightly into the meta: at the end of the book, Ashley gifts Anna the book itself xD. And in the beginning of the book, Anna will give Ashley a painting - her strength in art, and his in writing. But no, thank you for all your support.
    – Lou
    Feb 27, 2014 at 7:06

Beyond John Smithers's excellent answer...

If you don't have the proverbial thorn for Androcles to remove from the lion's paw, you can choose something which is symbolic in general, so people immediately understand what it means.

For example, if A presents B with a diamond ring, and B wears it on the left ring finger, in most of the western world that's an engagement ring. A claddagh ring (two hands clasping a heart) is often given as a friendship ring, which would work well here.


Similarly, if you want to emphasize their interconnectedness in the story (destiny, the idea of soulmates, the idea that they will always be joined, reincarnation, etc.) you could try an Ourobouros (snake eating its own tail) or a ring with Celtic knotwork all around, so that the design is infinitely intertwined.

(Those three are also all Irish/Gaelic/Celtic in origin, I believe, so they'll dovetail with your setting. But you could tweak it for any location.)

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    +1 All the ideas were helpful: a claddagh ring sounds really sweet. Whether or not I want to use it in the story, I love the idea.
    – Lou
    Feb 25, 2014 at 22:43

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