Using a black cat to symbolize bad luck or evil, using a red rose to symbolize love or passion or using a white flag to symbolize surrender are all considered old too simplistic or obvious, so I was wondering if there was a way to use those symbols that lack originality and have become cliched and inject new life into them. Is there a way to do this? Do you have to give them new meaning, or is there some other way I haven't thought of?

  • change the adjectives: red becomes carmine, white becomes milky, and black sable? Just a thought. Or don't use those symbols at all. By the way, a red rose is known as a Mr. Lincoln.
    – Lambie
    Commented Mar 12, 2023 at 18:17
  • 1
    Unless you are an experienced literary writer, you should refrain from deliberately inserting symbols or "controlling metaphors" into your story. Concentrate on just telling the story. Commented Mar 13, 2023 at 4:30

2 Answers 2


It all depends how you use the symbol.

There is a reason that a white flag symbolizes surrender. It is because white flags were literally used to communicate one sides surrender during war. Putting a white flag in a story when one side is literally surrendering a battle is therefore not "too simplistic", in my opinion.

On the other hand, if you're having a character "give up" on a relationship, it would be corny to have them wave a white flag. This is because it takes the reader out of the story. They begin to wonder: Is the character aware of the symbolism, and are they using it on purpose? Why do they even have a flag? Here, the symbol is out of place. You don't need to inject new life into your symbol, you need to present the symbol in a way that is either new or natural.

TL;DR: Inject new life by carefully incorporating the symbol into your story.


Many symbols have been inverted in some way. A version of Snow White where the Stepmother is really the good person and Snow White is evil. A version of The Three Little Pigs where the wolf is the goody victim and the pigs are evil. And so on.

You have to be pretty careful doing such reversals. If you get it right you're a hero. If you get it wrong people are going to be quite upset with you. If you are going to do a "culture flip" of some kind, you need to be quite seriously sensitive to the culture you are going to move into, and you still need to be innovative. The all-female Ghost Busters was not well received, for example. On the other hand, if done well and with some skill, reversals can be extremely good. The stage play and movie The Wiz was a lot of fun. Here is a clip of one of the songs.

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