I talked in a regular post a few weeks ago about accidental foreshadowing and mentioned accidental symbolism. Let's dig into that.
Symbolism comes up by accident all the time in writing. Little moments become important without the author intending them to be. But how can you make sure that happens?
Here's a really easy way. Think of a topic your narrator loves.
Astronomy. Music. Dinosaurs. Whatever. This is super easy if your character has a hobby. She's a painter? Great, pick colors. Or textures. Or famous artists. The broader, the better. Remember, a topic, not a specific thing. If you can't easily associate it with multiple emotions and situations, it's too small. Dogs over chihuahuas. Large animals instead of elephants. Board games instead of Uno.
Now, every time you're about to use a simile or metaphor, see if you can relate it to the topic.
Keep doing that in the entire novel.
As you do so, associate different parts of the themes with certain emotions. Maybe shooting stars are only mentioned in moments of surprise. Maybe the size of elephants comes up when the character is afraid. Or the game Sorry! is used when the relationship between characters is tense.
Then make those things can come up naturally in the world. If you associate robins with panic early on, readers will know something bad is about to happen if a robin flies by in chapter 30.
Guys, I'm not kidding. It's that easy.
Pick a topic your character likes. Make metaphors about that topic. Use certain aspects of the topic with specific emotions. Then, put the topic in the world naturally. That's it.
Find three topics your characters like. It doesn't have to be the same character.
Break the topic into items.
Associate the items with fear, anger, sadness, joy, disgust, and surprise (the 6 basic emotions).
Look at the metaphors and similes used in your current project. How can they relate to your topic?
Look at your current project and see if there's something or someone that comes up several times. Is it possible to relate this to your theme?