Words ‘motif’ is often used interchangeably through the word ‘theme’ in composing around stories. What precisely are motifs in stories, and how can you use them effectively? Read a meaning followed by tips to usage them imaginatively:

What is a motif? Motif vs theme

Oxford dictionaries specify motifas:

A dominant or recurring principle in an imaginative work-related.

Oxford Dictionaries Online, ‘Motif’

Words is also offered in various other creates of art. For instance, the three brief notes followed by a long note in a descfinishing minor third that open up Ludwig van Beethoven’s well known Symphony no. 5 are a motif that some say symbolizes ‘fate knocking at the door’.

Like Beethoven occurring his four opening notes, a writer deserve to take a motif’s initially picture, expression or principle and also repeat and construct it in assorted ways. Although a motifis similar to a theme, there are some differences:

Motif vs theme: What’s the difference?

In TheCambridgeIntroductiontoNarrative, H. Porter Abbott explains the connection between motifs and themes thus:

‘Themes and also motifs are the two terms most typically provided for the repetitions in narrative. As technological terms, they are often supplied interchangeably <… but> a theme is abstract and also a motif is concrete. Beauty, nature, violence and also love can be themes; roses, gardens, fists, and also the expression “Barkis is willin’ ” have the right to be motifs. Themes are implicit in motifs, yet not the various other method about.’

Porter Abbot, TheCambridgeIntroductiontoNarrative,‘InterpretingNarrative’,p.95

To summarize, a motif is:

A concrete word, picture, idea or phrase that’s repetitive throughout a story (Porter Abbot provides the example of ‘widows’ in WutheringHeightsby Emily Brontë)Different to abstract themes like ‘honour’, ‘pride’ and ‘beauty’ in that it is the smaller, concrete aspect that contributes to our perception of themes (e.g. recurring widowed personalities – a ‘widow motif’ – might draw our attention to themes of fatality, mourning or traditional sex roles)Something that recurs throughout a narrative, producing a feeling of connection between dispaprice events or character arcs

So just how can you usage motifs in exciting means in stories?

1. Find motifs that connect your story’s sepaprice threads

Many authors have actually used motifs to check out and also construct story themes. For instance, in Arthurian legends about the quest for the ‘Holy Grail’. In these legends, the motif of the ‘riddle’ (a puzzling question that creates a test of wisdom or character) plants up many times.

Riddles fool or trick some knights, while others are wiser in interpreting. The motif of the riddle is one aspect that unites their sepaprice stories approximately the mutual quest.

Look at the occasions of your story and also think about what actions or emblems you might repeat in various characters’ arcs to develop a feeling of link between them.

Example of a recurring motif phrase

A expression can be a motif connecting various events in a narrative. For instance, Vonnegut in his famous novel Slaughterhouse-Fiverepeats the motif expression ‘so it goes’ after eextremely death in the book.

This in effect makes each death in the story feel indistinguishable in some method, no even more crucial than any various other. It also creates the sense that fatality is unavoidable, coming to high and also low places and also people – regardless of their surconfront differences – aprefer.

You are watching: Which literary term describes a recurring idea or image?


2. Use motifs for descriptive unity

In James Joyce’s famousmodernist novel, Portrait oftheArtistasaYoungMan, the protagonist Stephen defines the sounds of a game of cricket even more than once:

”…the sound of the cricket bats: pick, pack, pock, puck: prefer drops of water in a fountain falling softly in the brimming bowl.’

James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, p. 63

This recurring description reflects the advance of Stephen’s imaginative creative thinking, as he finds methods to describe the civilization around him using poetic language.

Recurring motifs in description administer many results. They may:

Symbolize themes necessary to the story (for example, a summary of a household of animals observed in a park could attract our attention to the design template of ‘family members ties’ in a story)

3. Use motifs to foreshadow events

Recurring symbolic imperiods or phrases are advantageous for developing foreshadowing (a hint in narrative of things to come).

Example of making use of motifs to foreshadow

In an episode of the sci-fi TV series Black Mirror, close to the start of the episode we see personalities in a video game arcade. In the game intro flashing on a display, a auto crashes off the road into a building.

Later in the episode, we learn that among the main characters was as soon as in a near-fatal auto accident and is living on life assistance in online fact. The early visual introduces the ‘accident’ motif in the story. It introduces the connected themes of the unpredictcapability and fragility of life, and the various methods innovation is supplied to delay or avoid ‘game over’.

When you use a motif to foreshadow events:

Find a concrete picture that plainly relates to a later development (in the instance above, we can easily identify parallels between the online and ‘actual world’ accidents)Vary motifs’ repetition: The first accident in the instance is digital, on a display. The second is genuine, throwing a character right into a perpetual online life (a cycle of immortal death and also renewal in a simulated reality). These 2 appearances of the ‘accident’ motif are differed sufficient to be exciting however additionally relate to each other

See more: Why Does Crazy Frog Have A Penis Cleared By Asa, Crazy Frog And His Stunted Penis Cleared By Asa


4. Draw on your main concept for motif ideas

Where have the right to you find concepts for motifs your story might develop? A easy place to look is your main concept – the concise summary that provides the beginning scenario for your story.

For instance, think about this summary of a Pulitzer-winningbestseller that can be the story’s main idea:

‘The lives of a blind French girl and a gadget-obsessed Germale boy prior to and also in the time of World War II.’

Blurb describing Anthony Doerr’s novel All the Light we Cannot See

Immediately we could think of possible motifs:

Motifs having to carry out through vision (relating to the template of blindness) – e.g. prescription glasses, blindfolds, closed eyes, hide and seekMotifs having actually to execute through battle (e.g. army drills, news broadcasts, marches, rallies, political arguments, and so on.)

Each of these imperiods itself could provide creative fodder for amazing scenes – a scene where a guy drops his glasses fleeing cruel armed forces males, for instance. Look at your main idea and ask ‘what repetitive imeras or motifs have the right to I mine this concept for? How deserve to I repeat and develop them in different, exciting, differed ways?