A symbol is a method of attaching meaning to an action or item by associating it with something else thus giving the symbol a new, significant meaning in the story. Symbols are ways to inform the reader without using actual words to explicitly convey that information.
My current project is an origin story for a character used in a later story. When this character is introduced, I give her a locket I intend to use in the later story. However, this triggered the “Chekhov’s Gun” principle paraphrased as “If you introduce a narrative detail, that detail must be used later in the story.” I decided I’d deal with that later and moved on.
Then, I needed something to help express the character’s distress. The locket introduced at the beginning was the solution. It was related to a tragedy in her life, which was the cause of her distress, and it resolved the Chekhov’s Gun dilemma.
The magic of this revelation was how it affected the story’s ending. I knew what needed to happen at the end of the story, but I did not know how it would happen. In a rush of adrenaline induced euphoria, I saw how the locket defines the story and creates the ending. Moments like this make writing addictive.
Symbols are wonderful. I think I’ll keep them.