On the Writers’ Block Party Podcast, we recently had Kathleen Gilles Seidel back to speak with us about repeated motifs (note: this won’t air for a few weeks, sorry!). I wrote about them on this blog a couple of months ago, but Kathy did something unique: she read a book of mine (and one by my co-host Pru Warren) and analyzed the motifs in them. This was fascinating! I’d never had anyone analyze my work critically before.

The most interesting thing about Kathy’s analysis was that she found a lot more in this book than I intentionally put in. She discovered motifs I didn’t know were there! And she pointed out one motif that I did put in deliberately and told me why it didn’t work.

I had deliberately put in the motif of light and dark: the hero is scarred from war and so deliberately keeps to the dark so no one can see his scar. The heroine slowly brings him out into the light. (Kathy thought this worked very well.) I also have the heroine own a special silver tinderbox (the precursor to matches) that at the end of the book she gives to the hero as her token of love (the title of the book). (Kathy thought this didn’t work at all.)

The light and dark works because it is woven into nearly every aspect of the story. Kathy also found that I used inside and outside, American and British motifs as well, which I hadn’t even realized. But these motifs all work. They all are used to show who the protagonists are and not only that, but show how they grow and develop and how their love grows.

The tinderbox didn’t work because it’s not used as thoroughly through the book, for one, and for another, it’s a physical object and neither of the two protagonists are material people. Neither one believe that objects are important, they’re much more emotional, feeling sorts of people.

But now, as I am writing my next book, I wonder whether I should deliberately build in more motifs. Whether I should proactively build them and weave them into the story or if I should just allow my subconscious to do this for me. In A Token of Love, the book Kathy read, I did one motif deliberately and ended up with a number of motifs I hadn’t even known were there. They all blend together to create deep, meaningful characters and a story that is more than just an easy, light romance.

This is what, I believe, the advantage of having motifs does—it moves our stories closer to actual literature rather than simply a light read.

I’m struggling with this idea of whether to put in motifs deliberately. I’m also looking at something which I’ll write about next week, which Kathy also pointed out in my story: the gun on the wall—that would be Chekov’s theoretical gun. I’ll explain what it is in detail next week.

Until then, think about motifs. Do you put them into your story deliberately, or do you allow your subconscious do that for you?