How To Write a Novel — Symbol Story Threads

Day 16 of writing my novel in public

Photo by DBTH / Don’t Believe The Hype on Unsplash

I’ve started something scary here on Medium. It’s something I’ve done before, but never in public. I have a process that I’m going to follow, and I’d like to share it with you.

If you want to follow the journey from the start, go here.

If you missed yesterday’s, you can find it here.

Day 16 — Symbol Story Threads

The last couple of days I’ve been exploring story threads — narrative elements that iterate through repetition and variation. So far, I’ve explored the central story thread that tracks progress through the book and character story threads. Today I’m going to look at symbol story threads. These are the repetition and variation of an object through the book that then becomes a symbol.

Guidebook symbol story threads

My two guidebooks to make sure that the book I’m working on follows the genre path are The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis and Gangsta Granny by David WalliamsI’m going to first look at some symbol story threads in these two, before generating some of my own.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

The other day, I identified the witch’s wand as a symbol story thread:

  • Wand (type: symbol) — the capabilities of the White Witch and the limits of her power — What are the witch’s powers?

I’ll look at the iterations of this symbol.

Iteration Number/Page/Iteration

1/15/ The witch will wave her wand over Tumnus’ beautiful clove hoofs and turn them into horrid solid hoofs like wretched horses.

2/87/ The White Witch turns the merry party into statues seated round a stone table with stone plates and a stone plum pudding.

3/102/ The White Witch fights rather than fleeing because she has her wand and can turn the enemy to stone.

4/105/ Aslan offers the White Witch safe conduct to talk on condition she leaves the wand behind.

5/133/ Statues all over the battlefield show the witch has been using her wand.

6/135/ Edmund broke the witch’s wand, and that gave their side a chance.

Another symbol in the book is The Stone Table:

  • Stone Table (type: symbol) — represents the deep magic, the old way of the witch, compared to Aslan’s new way, the deeper magic — Will the old ways win?

Iteration Number/Page/Iteration

1/94/ The creatures meet Aslan at the stone table.

2/101/ The witch wants to kill Edmund at the stone table, the proper place.

3/113/ Aslan comes willingly to the stone table.

4/117/ The witch kills Aslan on the stone table.

5/121/ The stone table cracks in two. Aslan lives again.

Gangsta Granny

One symbol I identified in Gangsta Granny was the humble Murray Mint:

  • Murray Mints (type: symbol) — murray mints as a symbol of Granny and being generous — How will Granny’s generosity rub off on others?

Iteration Number/Page/Iteration

1/52 Granny can keep a Murray Mint going forever.

2/205 Granny asks Raj to save her some Murray Mints for Monday

3/249 Granny offers the Queen a Murray Mint to cover the awkwardness of Ben’s apology about calling Granny boring.

4/286 Raj, known for being stingy, offers Ben a condolence Murray Mint.

5/296 The Queen in her speech asks the young to be kind to the elderly and to bring them Murray Mints once in a while.

Another symbol is the tap-shoe:

  • Tap Shoe (type: symbol) — Ben connects his parents’ love of ballroom dancing with their rejection of him — Will Ben love ballroom dancing to please his parents?

Iteration Number/Page/Iteration

1/13 Ben thinks his mum would choose Flavio Flavioli’s sparkly tap-shoe over him. He pretends to like ballroom dancing.

2/197 Ben has failed at ballroom dancing and the crowd rejects him and throws a tap-shoe at him, which knocks out Flavio. Ben will no longer pretend to like ballroom dancing.

My symbol story threads

Thinking about some objects in my book that could become symbols, I have:

  • Cupcakes (type: symbol) — Charlie’s self-expression and the appreciation of that expressed through the cupcakes he makes — Will anyone celebrate Charlie’s creativity?
  • Bread (type: symbol) — openness to experience and willingness to experiment — How boring is your bread?
  • Birds (type: symbol) — the wisdom of the natural world — What can we learn from nature?
  • Recipes (type: symbol) — scientific thought vs intuition — Is it better to be rational or intuitive?

I’ll look at some iterations through repetition and variation that these might involve:


  1. Charlie wants to bake cupcakes for his birthday, but his dad denies him.
  2. Charlie secretly bakes his cupcakes.
  3. Charlie wins a cupcake competition.
  4. Miasmus enables Charlie to bake his cupcakes on a grand scale.
  5. Everyone is about to eat Charlie’s cupcakes when he has to stop them from doing so because Miasmus has tainted them.
  6. Charlie bakes his cupcakes for his own cakery, and people love them.


  1. Charlie’s dad will only eat white bread toasted.
  2. Mr Needem produces a new bread every week, but they are terrible and nobody likes them, not even the pigs, and they eat anything.
  3. Sandy loves breads from all round the world, and finds it hard to decide.


  1. Whenever Sandy is stuck with her homework, she goes to feed the birds in their garden. She comes back and can finish the work.
  2. Sandy predicts where mum’s latest postcard will be from and when Charlie asks how she knew, Sandy says a little birdie told her.
  3. Sandy calls the birds to snatch the tainted cupcakes before anyone eats them. Charlie worries the birds will eat them, but Sandy says they are not that stupid.


  1. Charlie can bake in the dark — he works intuitively.
  2. Miasmus’ perfume formulas are precise and closely guarded secrets.
  3. Charlie can’t help Miasmus make his cupcakes because he doesn’t bake using a recipe.
  4. Mr Needem is trying to perfect a recipe for the perfect bread, but keeps failing.


Day 16 and I have created some symbol story threads. I may add new iterations to these threads. Some may not make it into the book and I will discover more. It is possible that some will emerge in the writing of the first draft without my conscious knowledge — sneaky little blighters.

Tomorrow I will look at setting story threads.

Please subscribe to get the full series as I write it.

If you want to try the process with me and write your own novel, I’d love to have you join me on this journey. Put in the comments on how you went with this step.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *