Can you structure how is symbolism used throughout a book? I am wondering if there are patterns that are used to structure symbolism in a scene, throughout a book, in a single frame, etc. For example, you have three symbols in a picture, movie shot, or comic frame, and you arrange them in a triangle. This would be a very basic example. Do authors purposely use certain patterns to structure symbolism and to what effect? What can you do with this?

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    Structure like that is its own symbolism. I'm sure there are those who always present their symbolism in a rigid way, but I always just intuit where these elements go. But often, symbolism becomes apparent as you are editing, and you can add symbolism as you go back through. For example: if as you are going along, you realize your story parallels the Oresteia, you can add symbols of patricide, women's power, and family betrayal. Then play up those themes of revenge and justice in the story as you edit. But I don't think this answers your question.
    – DWKraus
    Jul 21, 2021 at 1:27
  • why was this post downvoted?
    – Sayaman
    Jul 24, 2021 at 14:24

2 Answers 2


There's a very good discussion of this in Jane Alison's book, Meander, Spiral, Explode.

Reviews here and here. She has written an extended article entitled Beyond Freytag’s Triangle: Two Novels Resisting the Narrative Arc which remarks on the 'insistent repetition' in Jamaica Kincaid’s Mr. Potter and the 'circling', 'pinwheeling', fractured, scattered structural approach Mary Robison takes in Why Did I Ever here.

In Meander, Spiral, Explode, she specifically talks about how symbols work to create a compelling almost palindromic structure in Philip Roth's Goodbye Columbus (pp 74–83).

A similar pattern features in Edgar Allen Poe's The Purloined Letter analysed insightfully in Kunze, D. (2018), 'Triplicity in Spencer-Brown, Lacan, and Poe', in G. B. Thakur, & J. M. Dickstein (Eds.), Lacan and the Nonhuman (pp. 157–176). Cham: Palgrave Macmillan.


Spiral is a great picture here. (though fractals would be more accurate) I've always been taught to know your theme and stick to it. Draw a pinwheel spiral, just around and around and around. Now this is the whole universe of the story. Each loop is another layer of theme. Symbolism is a way for the character to Interact with the theme. Whether they know it or not, it could be in how they take in their surroundings, how they interact with it or other characters, how they are interacted with. Micro small normal large cosmic levels all saying the same thing in their own way as the character follows their path, however chaotic or mellow it might be.

Know your theme, keep it simple, and let it show up everywhere it can.

  • Yes! This! Symbolism points to the theme.
    – wetcircuit
    Jul 24, 2021 at 12:23

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