Beyond the Thunder: A Guide to Storm Symbolism in Literature

“It was a dark and stormy night…”

Yep, something’s about to go wrong.

As soon as your eyes land on words such as these while reading a story, your instinct is to go, “Oh, no,” right?

This is because storm symbolism has been used in numerous works throughout centuries, inevitably etching itself into our subconsciousness. We’ve essentially learned to associate storms with chaotic and catastrophic events in stories, and so that is what we now expect.

But does storm symbolism go deeper than this? And how can you effectively use it in your own work?

Let’s thunderbolt through everything you need to know!

What Is Storm Symbolism?

In order to understand storm symbolism, we first need to unpack symbolism in and of itself.

Symbolism is a literary device that is used to represent certain ideas by relating them to something else, thereby playing with associations and symbolic meanings.

For example, a rose may represent romance or passion while a white dove could symbolize peace or forgiveness.

Weather symbolism works on the same principle. What do you think of when the skies are blue and the sun is shining? Lazy afternoons at the beach, picnics with friends, and warmth, right?

A storm, on the other hand… well, let’s just say it’s not exactly pleasant weather. Storms are uncomfortable, chaotic, and even dangerous, which means that comparing something to a storm automatically helps us understand its qualities without direct description.

“His eyes were a stormy blue” could hint at emotional turmoil underneath the character’s calm façade.

“Her presence was a storm” might serve to describe the character’s fidgety and impatient body language as she always rushes from one thing to another.

And there’s more…

RELATED READ: Metaphor vs. Personification

Storm Symbolism: 9 Meanings

Chaos isn’t the only thing a storm can represent in literature. In fact, there are several different meanings that may be conveyed through storm symbolism:

1. Emotional turmoil (the intensity of a character’s feelings may grow as the storm gains power)

2. Passion (the strength of a storm could represent romantic passion or passion that gives way to anger)

3. Uncertainty (storms are of an uncertain nature because it’s difficult to guess how powerful they will become and how long they will last)

4. Conflict (a storm could represent a conflict between nature and civilization, for instance)

5. Negativity (a storm can reveal that the story is about to take a turn for the worse)

6. Change (sometimes, storms gather quickly and suddenly, only to leave in the next instant – this could be used as a metaphor for a character’s state of mind or as the backdrop of a plot twist)

7. Power struggle (a storm makes for an incredible background to epic battles or important conversations where the dynamic between the characters shifts)

8. Self-discovery and transformation (a storm can also be seen in a positive light – for example, rain allows vegetation to grow – which means it can represent the chaotic journey of self-discovery and an eventual transformation for the better)

9. Chaos and darkness (it is often during a storm that battles take place, characters get wounded or are lost, and the status quo is destroyed by an unexpected event)

RELATED READ: Logical Fallacies: Definition and Examples

Examples of Storm Symbolism in Literature

Of course, the reason most readers are so familiar with storm symbolism is that we have read countless stories where storms are used as a literary device.

Take Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, for instance.

This classic work of fiction is a brilliant example of the Romantic Movement in literature (the main focus is on the characters’ emotional states and subjective experiences), and it is precisely storm symbolism that sets the atmosphere for the story and helps us understand its characters better.

Another well-known book where storm symbolism is effectively used is Lord of the Flies by William Golding. There, a storm symbolizes that the boys on the island have lost their innocence.

Symbols that are associated with storms can also represent major ideas, such as the lightning scar on Harry Potter’s forehead (representing a trauma from the past) or the electrical power Marre Barrow, the protagonist of the Red Queen series, possesses (possibly representing her courage, determination, and strength of character).

Storms run free in poetry, too – just take a look at the following quote by Nikita Gill:

“You fell in love with a storm. Did you really think you would get out unscathed?”

How to Effectively Use Storm Symbolism in Your Work

Storm symbolism sounds easy enough, but here’s the catch – when incorporating storms in your stories, it’s difficult to avoid cliché.

Imagine the protagonist and the villain have just begun their final battle. As they’re withdrawing their swords, a storm gathers on the horizon, and before they know it, it’s raining and the lightning is flashing all around them, painting their faces blue and silver.

While this paints a rich image, it’s also akin to a couple kissing in the rain. We have seen and read it too many times, and so we remain unfazed.

Therefore, try to use storm symbolism in subtle or unique ways that aren’t too on the nose.

For example, you can allude to it through character development, create it as a backdrop to a specific plot point, or use it to increase dramatic effect in situations where it’s not too obvious.


Storm symbolism can be a very powerful way to enhance the tone and atmosphere of your story, and what’s more, it can be used in multiple different ways, which allows for subtlety and nuance.

So, are you ready to unleash the storm?

Three, two, one…

Get writing!

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