Theme and symbolism are two areas of literature that many writing guides barely mention - if they mention them at all. Why is that?
Is it because symbolism is unimportant? Or that literary themes don't matter? Nope. If you want your novel to be published, it needs a deeper layer of meaning that only symbols and themes can provide.
Is it because theme and symbolism are things you can ignore - things that nobody will notice if they aren't there? Not if you want your novel to be the best that it can be.
Is it because both theme and symbolism in literature are tricky concepts to pin down? Kind of, yes. But just because something isn't immediately straightforward is no excuse for ignoring it.
No, the reason that literary themes and symbols are tricky to pin down is that they are abstract things, not concrete ones like characters and plots.
They are elements that should be present in a well-written novel, but not particularly visible - elements that you shouldn't notice but will miss if they are absent.
With virtually every other aspect of novel writing, there are specific steps you can take to achieve your objective.
Constructing a plot, for example, is like making a house out of wood and nails. You can even step back afterwards and admire what you have made.
But theme and symbolism are not like that. You don't "build" them so much as let them emerge from your story as you write it - though you need to give them a helping hand, of course, which is where all the articles below come in.
Even if you think you already know the answer to this one, start with this article anyway. Incorporating a rich layer of meaning into your novel is impossible without knowing what theme is, precisely.
Having worked out what a theme in a novel is, the next question to answer is why is theme important? I have already mentioned this above, but this article talks about three specific things that theme will bring to your novel.
Something that will probably occur to you sooner or later is whether it is best to tackle one theme (and one theme only) in a novel, or whether you can write about a whole range of issues. This article has the answer.
And last up in this look at a novel's theme, a caveat. If you want your novel not only to be published but also to win a little critical acclaim, too, you don't want to miss this piece of advice.
Symbolism is actually not directly linked to theme at all. However, it has enough in common with it to share the same section on this website.
What does it have in common?
Merely the fact that both literary symbolism and themes are crucial aspects of a well-written novel, and yet both things, handled correctly, must nevertheless remain almost invisible - there but not there.
Confused? This series of articles will help...
If you have read all of the articles above, you will now have a good understanding of what theme and symbolism are and why they are so important.
But how the heck are you meant to incorporate them into your novel?
In other words, what are you physically meant to do during the step-by-step Novel Writing Process?
Both theme and symbolism are very abstract in nature - and that, presumably, means that there aren't any concrete steps you can take to work them into your fiction.
Actually, there are some very specific steps you can take. Not only that, but they don't involve very much work at all. You've simply got to "sow the seeds" and then let the magic happen all by itself.
In short, you do this by deciding on your theme (and what symbols you will use) at a very early stage in the planning process. After that, you can pretty much forget about them.
These final articles gives you an overview of...