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Motifs and recurring objects

Forums Fiction General Writing Discussions Motifs and recurring objects

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  • #135966
    Rose
    @rose-colored-fancy

    *Trying to figure out how to convey my meaning in the title*

    Heya y’all!

    I was thinking about an interesting thing I learned about but I haven’t seen discussed or written about.

    In my Dutch Lit. textbooks, I learned about a literary device they called ‘motifs’. (Not to be confused with motives)

    In essence, it’s a recurring object, color, or other thing that repeats throughout your story, like a pattern. This is similar to symbolism, but the objects don’t necessarily need to have a deep, underlying meaning.

    It can just be an object, but the reader will start to associate the object with certain scenes, so by the end of the story, it’ll remind the reader of all the previous scenes.

    Now, considering the fact that Dutch Lit was just a crash course in how to sound like you understand the poor writing of pretentious, boring, and surrealistic books, I have no idea how much merit this device has, but I’ve seen it used multiple times, perhaps unconsciously.

    For example, if I mention tomatoes or wire cutters, every single Lunar Chronicles fan will know exactly what I’m talking about. In the Hunger games, it’s fire, Mockingjays, and singing. (and arguably bread. I mean, come on, the country is named Panem and one of the main characters is named after bread, for crying out loud.)

    In the Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, it’s exactly those two objects, songbirds and snakes.

    I noticed I started doing it more and more in my writing. Some of my characters have certain colors that they often wear, or certain objects come back again and again.

    In my current WIP, these include the constellation Ursa Maior, fire, chessboards, and shadows. Shadows is kind of an abstract one, but it does frequently occur. I might think of a couple more, but all these have come back multiple times.

    Has anyone else heard of this or used this? Have you ever noticed it in writing?

    Without darkness, there is no light. If there was no nighttime, would the stars be as bright?

    #135978
    Bethania Gauterius
    @sparrowhawke

    @rose-colored-fancy

    I’ve heard of motifs before, but I thought they referred more to general things that are in different stories but tend to represent the same thing, like a wise old man or a ghost appearing. Maybe I’m getting it confused with archetypes.

    The Scarlet Letter has a ton of symbolism and motifs. In one of my favorite books, The Eagle of the Ninth, there’s a wooden bird carving the main character made when he was young, a spear decorated with heron’s feathers, a Celtic shield boss, and of course the Roman eagle standard itself. They all appear at key moments in the story and probably do have a symbolic meaning as well (e.g., the carving represents the MC’s childhood, the shield boss shows the difference between the Celts and the Romans, and the standard symbolizes honor and duty, etc.) Gary D. Schmidt also seems to have motifs in his books as well, as well as a lot of repeating phrases that I always find really cool.

    I hadn’t thought too much about putting motifs in my books, but I’m sure they would naturally come up. I like your idea of each character having their own “look” with certain colors.

    "For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust." - Psalm 103:14

    #135987
    Arindown (Gracie)
    @arindown

    @rose-colored-fancy Oh my goodness, I was just thinking about this a few days ago! This is literally like my favorite thing that authors do. Almost all good stories have it, if you look close enough.

    The thing that makes me so excited about motifs is that they bring you back to a previous place, and that they can be anything. The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy (which I watched lately) has so many, I can’t even count them all, but I’ll tell you a few of the most magical ones.

    1: Song: When the movies first introduce Hobbits, they play a certain song in a certain key, with a certain instrument. That song subconsciously represents everything good, and playful and bright in the world. Then, all through the rest of the movies, at really dark parts, the movie brings back that song, or at least the same instrument, and your heart just breaks.😄

    2. Phrase: There is a part in the second movie where a evil spell is broken, freeing the King of Rohan. The first person he sees is his niece, and he says, “I remember your face…Eoywn,” and then smiles. In the last movie when he (spoiler) is wounded in battle, Eoywn is there with him, and he opens his eyes and says the same thing, “I remember your face…Eoywn.” And then smiles before he dies.

    3. Film shot: In the first movie, there is a scene where Frodo has to leave his friends behind, and paddles away in a canoe. Of course, Sam refuses to let Frodo go, and comes out in the water after him, even though he can’t swim. Frodo reaches over the side of the boat and grabs Sam’s wrist underwater…the movie does a side shot of just their hands. Then, in the last movie, Frodo ends up hanging over the edge of a cliff, and they do a shot of Sam grabbing his wrist from the same angle. It just makes it magical, and brings you back to the beginning of the story.

    I find that my stories create motifs of their own without me meaning to, even though I do put them in purposefully sometimes. The two best things ever are: when an author brings back a really meaningful motif at a climatic part, or at the very end, connecting it back to the beginning. And, when the author creates a subtle pattern, and then breaks it to make a point. In my WIP, my MC holds his shoulder (which was wounded in the past) when he’s in emotional or mental pain. I haven’t got to it yet, but at the end of the book, I plan to break that pattern, to help show how much he has changed.

    Sorry for the ramble. Motifs are the best though.😆

    Not all those who wander are lost.

    #135999
    Linyang Zhang
    @devastate-lasting

    @rose-colored-fancy Hey! Interesting topic.

    Yeah, I haven’t really used motifs yet, but I have some that I want to incorporate in one of my WIPs right now. So far I have heather flowers, fences, the sky… Not sure how it’s going to turn out, but I’m looking forward to working with them.

    "I set a melody upon the scenery I saw outside my window;
    It's beginning in my spacy world."
    - TK

    #136018
    Rose
    @rose-colored-fancy
    I’ve heard of motifs before, but I thought they referred more to general things that are in different stories but tend to represent the same thing, like a wise old man or a ghost appearing. Maybe I’m getting it confused with archetypes.
    You know, you may actually be right XD ‘Motifs’ was just my rough translation XD
    Oh, those are some very cool examples! I like the idea that the symbolism also ties into the title! Yes, I’d say more often than not, they appear unconsciously, but when you notice them, you start using them more.
    • This reply was modified 3 months, 1 week ago by Rose.
    • This reply was modified 3 months, 1 week ago by Rose.
    • This reply was modified 3 months, 1 week ago by Rose.
    • This reply was modified 3 months, 1 week ago by Rose.

    Without darkness, there is no light. If there was no nighttime, would the stars be as bright?

    #136023
    Rose
    @rose-colored-fancy
    Ooh, that’s awesome! I actually recently watched a video essay on how Pixar uses musical parallels to make scenes sadder! I really noticed this in the movie “Prince of Egypt” when I’m listening to the soundtrack. (I love that soundtrack XD) There’s a specific little flute tune that’s also the intro to the lullaby that plays in almost every song and every moment Moses is connecting to his family.
    And the breaking a pattern part is such a cool thing! That’s a really awesome way to use it! Personally, I love it when authors link literal scars and old injuries to mental/emotional injuries and scars. I just think it’s cool XD
    • This reply was modified 3 months, 1 week ago by Rose.

    Without darkness, there is no light. If there was no nighttime, would the stars be as bright?

    #136025
    Rose
    @rose-colored-fancy
    That’s awesome! I think the cool thing about motifs is that you might not notice them right away, but on the second or third read, they become obvious.
    Another book I thought of that does this exceptionally well is the Red Ribbon by Lucy Adlington. The book doesn’t have chapters, it’s split up into several parts, each named after a color. Green, Yellow, Red, Gray, White, and Pink. And during those parts, the author keeps describing things that are those colors and bringing them back in similies. Like lemon ice cream and sunflowers during Yellow.
    And a fun little easter egg, during one of the chapters the MC finds spools of thread in an old sewing machine, and guess what colors they are? Green, yellow, red, gray, white, and pink.
    That book was truly exceptional and I’m not going to shut up about it until I find someone who loves it too XD

    Without darkness, there is no light. If there was no nighttime, would the stars be as bright?

    #136026
    Rose
    @rose-colored-fancy

    And… formatting is going haywire. I hope y’all can actually read it.

    Without darkness, there is no light. If there was no nighttime, would the stars be as bright?

    #136049
    Linyang Zhang
    @devastate-lasting

    @rose-colored-fancy Wow, that book sounds awesome! I’ll have to check it out!

    "I set a melody upon the scenery I saw outside my window;
    It's beginning in my spacy world."
    - TK

    #136131
    Rose
    @rose-colored-fancy

    @devastate-lasting

    Wow, that book sounds awesome! I’ll have to check it out!

    It’s the BEST and I can’t recommend it enough! It’s really amazing and severely underrated!

    Also, I really love your profile pic!

    • This reply was modified 3 months ago by Rose.

    Without darkness, there is no light. If there was no nighttime, would the stars be as bright?

    #136140
    Linyang Zhang
    @devastate-lasting

    @rose-colored-fancy Thanks! I made it with Picrew.

    "I set a melody upon the scenery I saw outside my window;
    It's beginning in my spacy world."
    - TK

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