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Motivated by Motifs

Use the power of recurring signs and symbols to keep your readers engaged.

When faced with a difficult decision, it’s tempting to ask the universe to send us a sign. While life isn’t black and white, the pages of literature are. In real life, it’s impossible to be completely sure of how a decision will turn out. Authors, on the other hand, can sprinkle signs and motifs throughout their work to guide their audience and characters to an end result.

These motifs give us, readers, a taste of omniscience. I’ll never forget my high school film teacher explaining his theory on the use of oranges in The Godfather movies. Each time we see oranges on the screen, he explained, that’s a foreshadowing that someone is going to die or be killed. Once I became aware of this tidbit, it was impossible to not see oranges throughout the movie, and I subsequently reveled in my prescient glimpse of what would happen next.

As inspiration this week, explore the use of motifs and symbols in your writing. Consider how you can incorporate visual elements as a way of either heightening the meaning of your work or giving your readers clues as to what comes next in your tales. When writing your next piece of fiction or poetry, ruminate on the primary message you’re trying to get across. Is there an element of nature that represents this theme for you? If so, how can you incorporate that element into your work?

Signs may be but the sympathies of nature with man. – Charlotte Brontë

If realism and personal blogging are more your scene, explore the role of signs in your life as if you were a literary figure in a play or story. Is there a certain number or symbol you always see? What does it mean to you and has this impression held true?

By digging deeper into the meaning of repetition — in our lives, and in literature — we have the opportunity to get a taste of that omniscient perspective. Look for that carton of oranges — allow yourself to find a deeper meaning in the small coincidences you see every day.

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  1. That my goal. All day, every day. Even if I don’t, quite know how to say it. This post let’s me know, I’m at least on the right track. #NOTHINGMatters but You

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  2. This is a very interesting concept and I can understand how it could be useful on literary blogs. However my blog is more centered around crafts and business, so haven’t quite figured if motifs and symbols could serve a purpose on mine. I tend to just use photos (when I can) to illustrate the particular focus of the specific post. Any suggestions?

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    1. Pictures are great! When working on a craft project, the project itself could also act as symbolism. What does the project mean to you? Have you used any similar elements in other projects, as well? There may be some threads running through what you’re working on that you can try to tie together 🙂

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  3. This is one of the most intriguing writing tips I’ve come across in a long time. As you say, it’ll need a bit of personal exploration to come up with something that can fit in seamlessly. A good challenge, thanks!

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  4. I have many repeating motifs both in my blog posts and the drafts of my novels that I am working on offline. One of my principle characters has a particular kind of magic and that right there is where my motifs come in. 🙂

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  5. I found that the deeper I got into my novel, the more these motifs manifested themselves and I found myself going back and interjecting them inconspicuously earlier in the story. It wasn’t what I had originally planned to do.

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    1. Alec – nice post. I’d love to read more. I chose to look because your name reminded me of two characters that bring truth to their stories. 1. Effie Wilcox from A Year Down Yonder 2. Alice Wilinsky from So B. It. They both remind people that truth is not always as we wish – and your post did that too. So – your name was the motif for my reading today.

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  6. Great idea – I think I, too, could use this in my English class. Kids relate to visual imagery and it could certainly be a way to encourage engagement.

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  7. I love this. Although my blog is a lifestyle blog, I tend to use the “college” motif because that’s what my life centers around right now. Well, that and trying to figure out what my career path is. However, my motif will probably change once I graduate.

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  8. Interesting, interesting post! I’ve thought about this a couple of times in my life but I find that I almost never remember or notice these ‘oranges’, if there ever was.

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