I'm working on a book right now, and I want to add something that the reader really has to search for, such as symbolism or motifs. What are some ways to implement those, or such like it, into any type of writing?

  • This is an exceptionally broad question. There are... So many ways. Also, look at allegories Dec 4, 2016 at 5:55
  • By 'deeper meanings' did you mean obscure? Dec 4, 2016 at 18:55
  • I mean to have the writing be clear to anyone that reads it, but to also have ideas that reappear, as a way to make a statement. Jan 22, 2017 at 20:00

3 Answers 3


Oh Dear, no. That is not how it works. You should always make your work as clear to the reader as you possibly can. If your use a symbol or a metaphor, it should be to make your meaning clearer, not more obscure.

Yes, I know that in school your English teacher told you that there were deeper meanings hidden in the text and expressed through metaphors etc. etc. That was bunk. The reason we have to study the metaphors used in the literature of the past is that all stories are told by reference to other stories -- stories the reader knows. When the original author wrote those works, the stories they referred to were familiar to the audience of their day. But those stories are not so familiar to us today, and so we need to study up on those stories in order to understand the reference the author was making to them.

The most frequent and obvious examples of this are biblical allusions. When Shakespeare wrote, his audiences would have been thoroughly familiar with the bible. Most modern audiences are not, and so they need to have the bible stories that Shakespeare refers to explained to them before they can understand his meaning.

It is true that some of the early moderns indulged in highly obscure references that few of their own time would understand. They were rewarded appropriately: very few people read them.

It is also true that some of the things that authors want to say are difficult to express, and that they have to be approached not by simple statements but by the juxtaposition of many ideas and images. We may not all readily understand these ideas because they are inherently difficult to understand, but if the author is any good they have done their very best to make their meaning clear.

So, whatever it is you are trying to say, say is as clearly and as simply as you can. Don't use a metaphor or a symbol unless that metaphor or symbol is the clearest way to accurately express the thing you are trying to say. And if the thing you are trying to say is a simple straightforward thing that you can express in a simple essay, write a simple essay.

  • This is a very good advice. What do you think for hidden meanings which rely on the reader to think and are not critical to the understanding but are like additional. For example it is known that Stanley Kubrick put a lot of hidden suggestions. Other aspect is when adding parts of the story which at first sight have no relation to the story but somehow play with the subconscious psychological state of the reader without them realizing. Dec 5, 2016 at 8:13
  • 1
    Movies are different because movies have a background and a foreground and multiple sensory channels. You can drop an easter egg into the background. A novel presents each word to the user's attention one by one. There is no place to hide anything. But fiction is not about conveying information or making an argument. It is about recreating human experience. It is all about playing with the psychological state of the reader. The effect is hidden only in the sense that to announce the intention to create the effect would be to dull the effect. A story is not an essay. It works differently.
    – user16226
    Dec 5, 2016 at 12:50
  • Of course, every reader will receive the experience differently, despite the author doing everything they can to strike every note of that experience as loudly and clearly as they can. Because the tools by which those notes are struck are references to stories, images, symbols, and experiences, some readers will not receive the full effect because those stories, images, symbols and experiences are not in their repertoire. They are hidden from them by their lack of experience, not the author's attempt to hide them. Education and experience may therefore allow them to enjoy the work more.
    – user16226
    Dec 5, 2016 at 12:56

You could use symbols and motifs. This sounds very obvious, but like all literary techniques, if done well it works. It could be the use of the colour red. It could be the mention of a poetic work. It could be the constant use of metaphors connected with the sea. Think of the symbols and motifs and then insert them at appropriate places.


The best way to add deep meaning is to make your writing real and relevant. There is no secret element to make your work seem edgy and subtextual. Just make your story brutal and smart. That will give all the meaning you need.

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