Stephen King says in his book, On Writing, that stories are fossils that must be uncovered. For a more detailed explanation, buy his book (no, seriously, you should) but for now, just know that it means that the story is pre-existing and you are just revealing it (and finding it yourself).
What I really want to talk about here is symbolism and/or theme. I think every person that went through high school got a plateful of it with every English class. All the important stories seem to have symbolism and have some kind of great message to deliver.
One of the reasons that I’ve avoided a lot of classics is because of this. I don’t like symbolism, I like story. Symbolism is for smart people who take the time to study the book for months until they understand the underlying reason for every word the author put there. Or so I thought.
I like King’s theory. He says that symbolism, just like the rest, is in the fossil that is your story. You just have to uncover it. In other words, after you wrote the first draft, you’re likely to see a theme if you read it. Things might stand out to you as symbolism. If you like it, you can expand on those symbols and remove others.
What I’m trying to say is that I don’t want to sit and plot my story around the whims of some kind of symbol that I want to convey. I want to tell a story.
So instead, I will uncover the fossil and see if there are any symbols to be found. If so, I might refine them to focus my story a bit. If not, that’s fine too.