field of flowersNature is a symbolic powerhouse that can add depth and complexity to a novel. ( See the Symbolism post for how and why you might want to include one or two.)


Plants and trees and all-things-nature may be used in a variety of literary ways! As:
  • a metaphor
  • a symbol
  • foreshadowing
  • an allusion
  • a plot device
  • characterization
  • the literary device favorite—irony

A Few Leafy Considerations

  • Flowering suggests a blossoming or awakening of a character’s personality, intellect, morals, understanding, love etc
  • Metaphoric or symbolic indicator of something—like an idea, problem, conflict, ideology, morality, opinion, attitude—that is dead or dying
  • May foreshadow a character’s or conflict’s demise
  • Characterize an aspect that is dead/destroyed within a character’s soul or heart
New Growth
  • Denotes new beginnings, fresh starts, renewal, hope unless
  • The growth is deleterious or harmful
  • May convey the root of a problems coming to the surface
  • Reveal the unearthing of a problem or situation
  • Characterize the importance of character’s culture
Yellowed or drying leaves
  • Indicates or foreshadows that a character or situation is dying
  • Suggests the approaching end of one’s life or goals or hope
  • A tricky or hurtful problem or situation
  • Characterize a person’s temperament
  • Foreshadow problems


  • Consider type—thorny, thick, invasive, wild, sculpted, overgrown—may indicate the type of problem/conflict OR
  • Reveal a character’s personality OR
  • Foreshadow any of the above
  • Hedges enclosing a space may reveal the boundaries of a character or situation
  • Does the character leap over them? Crash into them? Trip over them? Plant them? Tend them? Cut them down? Trample them?
  • May be a biblical allusion to the Garden of Eden
  • Consider what’s growing in the garden. Plants? Rock garden? Cactus? Full of statues? Fruit trees? Vegetables? Flowers? Herbs?
  • Symmetry suggests  beauty and a well-rounded intellect
  • Is it well -tended, wild, gone to seed, in ruin, meticulous?
  • Is it a secret garden?
  •  Gnarled limbs may reveal a complex problem
  • Hint at the strength or weakness of a character ( Does the trunk bend with the wind? Is it stunted? Does it overshadow other trees? )
  • Suggest the strength of a character’s heritage/culture
  • Is the tree symbolic? See Tree Symbolism.
  • Indicate soaring ambitions
  • Does the character climb or swings from its branches?
  • Do they denote character like the “Four Skinny Trees” chapter found in House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros?
  • Pastoral or idyllic atmosphere ( unless its full of zombies or raptors )
  • Wild beauty
  • Think Bronte!
  • Desolate and dreary but can be tragically romantic
  • Something to be crossed
  • A great place to ponder one’s life
  • Add fog for some Gothic-style brooding
  • Are invasive, taking over and often obscuring or smothering other plants. Does a character or culture or conflict encroach upon your character?
  • Are they poppies  ala The Wizard Of Oz?
  • Do they have thorns?
  • What’s the symbolism behind the species?
  • Are they wilted?
  • Are they common? Read the short story Chrysanthemums by John Steinbeck for a symbolism-packed flower
  •  Or exotic like the very symbolic and tattoo-favorite lotus flower?
  • Is it the red rose of love or is it the “Sick Rose” of William Blake’s evocative poem?
  • Does it grow with others? Or is it  a single triumphant daisy growing from a crack in the pavement?
  • Are the blooms wilted? Or have the buds been nipped off?
  •  Unwanted and ugly unless…
  • They are beautiful weeds, in which case they suggest the beauty in something unwanted and ugly
  • Are they a metaphor for a character’s persistent problems?
  • Are they a symbol for the character’s troubles in life?
  • Does the character try to get rid of them or let them take over?
Wide paths
  • The physical, spiritual, intellectual, psychological, moral choice is easy
  • It is a common or frequent choice
Narrow paths
  • The physical, spiritual, intellectual, psychological, moral choice is difficult
  • It is an uncommon or infrequent choice ( The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost )
Streams and ponds
  • Pastoral and charming…usually
  • Can symbolize the conflicts in a novel
  • They can be large or small, cold, frozen, fraught with danger, or harbor giant brontosaurus-type creatures
  • In the 1999 movie Lake Placid, the idyllic lake is anything but placid! Can you say irony?
  • How fast is the water moving?
  • Is it the complex symbol found in Huck Finn where the Mississippi divides the racist east from the wide open west AND where direction denotes bias AND is the only place where Jim and Huck are free from prejudiced eyes?
  • Is it “The Bitter River” of the poem by Langston Hughes?
  • Is it the river from Fahrenheit 451 where Montag jumps into to save his life and that symbolizes his intellectual rebirth?
A FEW ADDITIONS ( not nature but often found with nature)


  • Like all doors, arches, and entry ways, gates signify movement from one realm—physical, spiritual, intellectual, psychological, moral— to another.
  • Is the gate connected to a white picket fence ( a perfect American family )?
  • Is the gate wide ( easy ) or narrow ( difficult ) ?
  • Is the gate fancy or plain? Ancient or new?
  • Connectors of two different physical, spiritual, intellectual, psychological, moral, cultural worlds
  • Broken bridges therefore reveal the schism or rift between the two
  • Often haunted
  • Check out Ambrose Bierce’s short story “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” for  sophisticated bridge symbolism
  • Is it a primitive rope bridge? The Golden Gate? Quaint covered wooden? Modern steel?
  • Often places of danger
  • What’s under the bridge? Troll? Water? Dry creek bed? Deep ravine?
  • How far down is the drop from the bridge? ( the farther the fall the more dangerous )

See how much FUN you can have with the natural world?

Related links: Symbols & more symbols; Rock Your Writing

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