January 24, 2011

writing motifs

Inspired by the lovely Anassa over at Specnology, I've stolen her blog post on writing motifs and made it my own.

A writing motif is an idea, theme, object, or person that recurrently appears in one's writing. After looking through most of my writing, both new and old stories, I've found my motifs (in no particular order):
  1. Princes. I'm a sucker for fairy tales, so it's no wonder that most of my stories have a princely character. My first novels had the clichéd, mysterious boy who turned out to be the unacknowledged heir to a kingdom. I'll admit: I still fancy this sort of prince. My current work in progress has two princes. I don't know what it is about princes that I find so appealing, but I can promise you that I'll almost always write about them.  
  2. Giants. This came as a surprise. I didn't realize how many giant characters I actually had in my stories. They range from evil, man-eating yetis to gentle, tea-drinking humanoids. They usually have something to do with an old war or the world's creation... something monumental. Hunting giants seems to be a favorite pastime of evil characters.
  3. Dead Dragons. You'll never see a living dragon in my stories. If I mention dragons at all, it's in reference to their dying out, rumors of their final resting place, or myths involving dragons and a particularly Nordic group of people. This must be some reference to the world sucking at the present time, because I always talk about dragons in reverence, never in disrespect.
  4. Alternate Worlds. A good seventy-five percent of my stories involve the main character stumbling upon some alternate world, especially those I wrote as a child (and before I had even heard of Narnia). Sometimes, the character sought out such a world, but most of the time, it was an accident. This disposition toward writing this type of story probably led to my devotion to the Hero's Journey structure, only the concept of the Special World was employed quite literally. I still write these types of stories. Someday, I plan to write a series of novels with all sorts of different alternate worlds. I've started on one already.
  5. Magic. This is a given. I write fantasy. You'll be hard pressed to find a story that I've written that doesn't have some sort of magic in it.
  6. Fate. Destiny. Whatever you want to call it. Most of my main characters have a projected destiny, a great feat that they must accomplish or the world is going to end. I'm trying to lean away from using fate as a reason for a character doing something, but most of my earlier writing has fate-ridden characters and plots. I still use the concept of the quest, as in the main character must do ____ or something really bad will happen, but I'm giving the character a choice rather than forcing them because of fate.
  7. Slavery. Apparently, magic and slavery go hand in hand, because in nearly every story I've ever written, there has been a slave character or a commentary on slavery. The main character of my work-in-progress starts the story as a slave. In another draft of the same story, she rescues another slave. I think a lot of this has to do with the idea of overcoming one's circumstances, which is a prevalent theme in my writing.
  8. Religious Commentary. This isn't to say that I flat-out reject religion in my stories and make a mockery of it. In fact, I like having religious characters in my work, even if I am not in the least bit religious. Most of the religious commentary comes from the one character judging the religious views of another character. Usually, the faithful character undergoes a self-analysis of what they believe in, questioning their reasons for their beliefs. Most of the time, these characters come out of the self-analysis with faith stronger than before. Characters who had a weak faith to begin with usually lose their faith or begin to look at it skeptically. The main character of my work-in-progress is extremely religious in one religion, while a secondary character follows a different religion less devotedly. It causes tension between them and shows how religion can cause its followers to be intolerant and discriminant toward others of different faith. A lot of my stories show this. 
  9. Following One's Heart. This is prevalent in most of my stories. The main character is impeded by certain circumstances, and they can't follow their dreams easily. These characters have to break out of the binds that hold them, and pursue what it is they really want. A lot of times, they have to figure out what that actually is. Some characters have been suppressed for so long, they've forgotten their dreams and desires. A lot of my stories follow that character in a journey of self-discovery. They overcome their previous circumstances and become the person they want to be, for better or worse.
  10. The Baddie That Turns to the Good Side. Usually these are secondary characters, but I have a ridiculous number of them. They begin the story as a notable evil character and through the course of the story, or through a sudden change of heart, they join the good side. I like these characters. They usually have the most depth, and I get a lot of satisfaction when characters redeem themselves, even if it is at the last moment.
  11. The Hero's Journey. Self-explanatory if you've been reading my blog for a while. See sidebar.

I think that by identifying your motifs, you can make your writing stronger. These motifs almost become personal clichés. You can take it up as a challenge to write a story that doesn't have a theme of following one's heart, or one that doesn't have a single prince or giant, or one in which dragons are still alive.

These are my motifs. What are yours?


  1. Great post, Brooke, and nice list of motifs! I liked your explanation of them, too. I can almost picture the kinds of worlds you create just from this. They sound wonderful. It's also nice to see you're not shying away from commentary and talking about social issues. I like when fiction does that. :)

  2. Awesome post! I love the idea of thinking about writing motifs--it reveals so much about not only your writing, but you as a person--I think this was a great introduction (nice to meet you, btw, followed you here from LTWF :) ) I might have to swipe this idea for my blog :)