Genre & Theme
3 min read

Symbols & motifs in story

An image showing some motifs that might occur in a fiction novel

Symbols and motifs are the hidden tools in your writer's toolbox, quietly working to give your narrative depth and resonance. So let's get to grips with these two concepts.

Unmasking symbols

A symbol in literature is an object, character, or event that, beyond its literal meaning, represents something else. It's a narrative shorthand, providing a deeper or additional meaning. For instance, a storm in a story often symbolises turmoil or conflict that the characters must face. A solitary bird could symbolise freedom, loneliness, or a longing for adventure – it's all up to you, the master wordsmith.

Symbols can be a powerful way to convey complex ideas without lengthy explanations. They can help express your story's theme and connect with your readers on an emotional level.

Spotlight on motifs

Now, onto motifs. While symbols are stand-alone representations, motifs are recurring elements in a story that contribute to the mood and underscore the theme. They can be symbols, yes, but also phrases, actions, or even situations that keep cropping up.

For example, if the protagonist often finds themselves watching the sunrise, that action, the sunrise, becomes a motif. It might underscore a theme of hope or new beginnings.

Distinguishing between symbols and motifs

While symbols and motifs may seem similar, they have a clear distinction. A symbol stands alone, representing a concept or theme once or sporadically in the narrative. A motif, however, must recur, creating a pattern that emphasises the themes or other important aspects of the story.

Incorporating symbols and motifs effectively

Here are a few tips for effectively using symbols and motifs in your narrative:

  1. Ensure relevance: Your symbols and motifs should fit seamlessly into your story, characters, and theme. A symbol that has nothing to do with your story will feel out of place, like a cactus in a rainforest.
  2. Avoid clutter: Don't overpopulate your narrative with symbols and motifs. Too many can distract from the main narrative and confuse your readers.
  3. Embed meaningful elements: Make sure your symbols and motifs carry weight. They should add an extra layer of meaning to your story, enhancing the readers' understanding and experience.

The final paragraph – a journey's end, for now

Symbols and motifs are the subtle threads that weave together to create the intricate tapestry of your narrative. They can add depth, enhance themes, and create a resonant, memorable story. Remember, the power of a story often lies in its subtleties.