Hidden Clues

How do authors hide clues in their stories?

What are some of the patterns and symbols in literature?

1. A Quest

  • Watch for this pattern:
  • a. who: someone who goes on a journey
  • b. where: a destination for the journey
  • c. why: a reason to go to that destination
  • d. what: adventures and difficulties on the journey
  • e. why: the hidden reason for the journey that explains the whole story

2. Vampires and Ghosts

  • Whether or not there is a supernatural character in the story, there may be a pattern in which someone becomes stronger by causing someone else to become weaker. In other words, someone who knowingly uses others in order to satisfy their own selfish desires.

3. Food

  • Often, in stories, characters who eat together have something in common. They share a value or a goal. They get along with each other. There is peace between them. 

3. Geography

  • Watch for changes in the setting.  What does each setting seem to indicate?  Loneliness? Closed-mindedness?  Freedom?  Adventure?  Often, changes in geography indicate what is going to happen to the characters.

4. Darkness

  • Watch for references to light and darkness in stories.  Watch for blind characters. Often, darkness symbolizes an inability to understand, or see, important ideas. 

5. Illness

  • Sometimes, a character’s disease symbolizes something psychological in that character.  Perhaps it is a lack of courage. Perhaps it is a lack of opportunities to develop talents. Perhaps it is a selfish heart.  Watch for connections between what is said in the story and what is implied.

But remember, these patterns and symbols do not apply to every story.  Sometimes authors like to surprise readers. Sometimes they put in symbols that mean the opposite of what readers expect.  So read closely.  Watch for clues!

To learn more, much more, about the hidden patterns in stories, read How to Read Literature Like a Professor for Kids by Thomas C. Foster (Harper, 2003).

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