View Full Version : Recurring elements/themes in your stories.

05-16-2008, 03:25 PM
Have you ever discovered themes, elements, "signatures" that seem to occur in a lot of your writing?

For me, I find that I like to have a "color theme" for every story I write. And most of the time, it's red.

I also like describing a scenery at the start of the story, then describing it in a different light by the end.

I seem to love including sycamores and maples in my stories. I also like red leaves.

And I did none of the above intentionally. Just seemed to happen.

05-16-2008, 04:44 PM
Psychological themes show up a lot in my writing--in particular Jungian ideas and dreams--though I often plan this. Not in a forced way (I hope), it's just something that seems to fit in with everything I write.

Oddly, I find that abuse issues often show up in my work too. I don't always plan that, it just seems to happen. o_o

Regarding more subtle themes like the ones you mentioned, I haven't noticed any, but that's not to say they're not there. I just haven't noticed them. *shrug*

05-16-2008, 04:55 PM
Romantic love.
Platonic love.

05-16-2008, 05:09 PM
Respect for the power of nature.
Hidden abilities.

05-16-2008, 05:44 PM
Asian stuff
Failing marriages
Pregnancies, not in my present timeline, but an emphasis on past pregnancies
Family ties.

05-16-2008, 05:48 PM
Cultural differences.
Regrets and redemption.
Father-son relationship.
Unconditional love.
Friendship and loyalty.
Water -- it features prominently in both novels

05-16-2008, 06:06 PM
Young male protagonists (and here I am, a growed woman).
Intelligent and adventurous female protagonists.
Natural history and botany.
The allure of the inexplicable.
The theory, practice and consequences of magic or psychic ability.
The connection of the individual to the cosmic.
Providence, Arkham, Kingsport, Innsmouth, Dunwich, Cape Cod and other New England locations, real and invented.
Slimy monsters.

Mr Flibble
05-16-2008, 06:11 PM
I have a thing for red too :)


Tattoos / brands

05-16-2008, 06:20 PM
Hm. I'm going to add redemption to mine, but it's more redemption from within...

Is there a word for that??

05-16-2008, 06:26 PM
predetermined fate

Harper K
05-16-2008, 07:38 PM
animal welfare
suicidal characters
people who feel trapped and / or too exposed
scientific laws and theories
road trips
the modern, urban U.S. South

05-16-2008, 08:02 PM
I've only written the one novel, but its themes include:

man versus machine (literally!)
science versus human ability


05-16-2008, 08:06 PM
free sex -
drugs -
fate -
family ties-
living in communes -
mistaken identity

05-16-2008, 08:27 PM
struggling with loss

Yikes, I sound cheery, don't I? I think I'm going to read Doyle's book instead.

05-16-2008, 08:34 PM
The main theme in just about every story I set out to write always centers around "redemption".

05-16-2008, 08:37 PM
Good being perceived as evil
Platonic love

Couple other things I'm not realizing, I'm sure.

05-16-2008, 10:14 PM
Belief - Religions, conspiracy theories, superstitions... I like characters who believe in things they can't prove.

People being eaten - Most of the stories like this came at a time when 'Algie met a bear' was stuck in my head. I blame the song.

Goats - I have to de-goat many stories. Anytime I need a random animal I think "Aha, goats!"

05-17-2008, 01:30 AM
Mine are almost always about fallible people finding a glimmer of perfection. Broken people being just a little bit fixed. I love broken people... especially if they find that glimmer inside them that helps to make them stronger. They don't have to win or come out on top... but they do have to come to the realization that there is beauty in their fallible lost little worlds. My theme, I suppose, is likened to the lotus in the mud. My god, but those petals are about the most beautiful things on the planet... if you know enough to wipe off the shit they grow in and have a look at them.

Danger Jane
05-17-2008, 01:32 AM
Sisterly love

A motif that seems to occur over and over in my writing is the sea or sky as a metaphor for a character's emotional state.

It's interesting to read these. Shows a lot about each one of us.

05-17-2008, 01:55 AM
Culture clash. A person from one culture entering a new one, and much of the lower-order conflict (as opposed to the central storyline's conflict) revolving around the mutual adjustment of each to the other.

05-17-2008, 01:57 AM
Misunderstanding one's own talents.

05-17-2008, 02:39 AM
*Strong female characters
*Biological family vs. one you make for yourself
*Children growing up without the traditional family unit
*Mind over muscle
*Less than conventional romance plots
*The strange hidden in the everyday
*The value of a good fantasy

05-17-2008, 03:00 AM
loss of a family member, trying to live a normal life while being different, having a great horse, getting to the goal no matter the cost, finding a love and losing to horrible circumstances. I'm sure there's more but that's all off the top of my head.

Dale Emery
05-17-2008, 03:15 AM
Supernatural jarring of people's minds:

A year after running away, a twelve-year-old boy returns to find that nobody remembers him.
Time begins to loop; every 29 hours everything resets... except people's minds.
A man finds that he and a killer are sharing each other's minds.
A magical system where the magic affects people's minds (motivation, attention, empathy, interpersonal restraint, ...).

Soccer Mom
05-17-2008, 11:52 PM
Mother-daughter relationships
free will
slimy monsters

05-18-2008, 12:04 AM
sex, drugs, and rock and roll music

Round John Virgin
05-18-2008, 12:24 AM
strong female protagonists
psychics and savants
airplanes and pilots
the sea
the importance of dreams
red sunsets

05-18-2008, 02:21 AM
Strong female protagonists
Power imbalances
Telling the truth while angry (in at least three of my stories, the protagonist loses her temper and says some things that are confrontational, unpleasant, and probably right.)
Hidden strength (in my stories, the most badass person in the world is likely to be gentle and friendly—at least until something gets them riled. And in that same vein . . .)
Alien environments
Love (not necessarily romantic)

It's not a convenient bullet point, but I also find that in most of my stories, there's a place where the protagonist confronts something completely alien to them (but not hostile) and has to choose between xenophobia and acceptance. Acceptance is generally the right answer, but the protagonist freaks out for a bit first.

That's all I can think of at the moment . . .


05-18-2008, 12:34 PM
Protagonist dies
Man becomes God
Child lost(or loses) their parent(s)
Weirdo's fall In Love
Belief and fighting/dieing for it
Unusual Births
The weak have strength
The Strong are Evil
Bringing back the long dead protagonist

There's one script of mine that haves all of theses, and all of my other scripts have some of these.

05-18-2008, 02:12 PM
Power in weakness
caste systems
protags who do/become the thing they hate
the same stone from different sides of the hill
love as redemption. (a bit cheesetastic, I'll admit)


05-18-2008, 03:05 PM

In my short stories:
1) Memory
2) Regret
3) Parent-Child Relationships (or lack thereof)
4) Loneliness
5) Warped Fairytales

My husband was making fun of me the other day -- he said for someone who gets peeved when movies don't end happily, I sure hate writing happy endings. He's right, too. My stories are a little depressing. :)

05-18-2008, 03:58 PM
I was only thinking about this subject the other day.

I always teach my characters that there is hope, love and contentment at the end, even though I drag them through some very hard times during the story.

My females are always from broken and/or mixed up families and they always seem to find surrogate parents when they are older.
They are always seeking approval form someone or other.
They've also always been abused in one way or another through their lives.
They learn to trust and always become strong characters by the end.

My males always seem to be cops or ex cops lol. I don't know why, they just are.
They are also kind to their ladies, by the end of the story anyway.
My males always seem to come from nice family backgrounds, although the females never do.
They are always tall, dark and handsome :D
I usually have to teach them a lesson in my work, not to be so proud, not to be so arrogant etc.

There is always crime going on in the background of my work, hence the police story lines I suppose.

All of my stories are set in France.


05-19-2008, 01:08 AM
Anyone else noticing how many people are putting down "strong female protagonists"?

05-19-2008, 03:58 AM
All my stories have a group of people doing something extreme.
Scientific moments and philosophic moments and how that deals with emotions
The main characters are always shy, not very social.
That's what comes to mind right now.

05-19-2008, 02:26 PM
My husband read over a short story I entered into a competition the other week and he said I like to take revenge on people. So I guess it pays to play nice ;)

05-19-2008, 09:38 PM
I've been thinking about this in relation to my work for a little work so it's cool to see the subject here.

Anyway for me, a few areas come up repeatedly. The redemptive power of love and friendship, righting a wrong, characters leaving a safe home and travelling through unfamilar areas, boobs and zombies. And zombie boobs.

05-20-2008, 02:34 AM
Anyone else noticing how many people are putting down "strong female protagonists"?

Probably because for some of us, it's a deliberate choice. I wrote a YA fantasy with a twelve-year-old girl as the protagonist because I had a hard time finding stories like that as a kid. Of course, the durn thing turned out to be a novella, making it very tough to sell . . . but that's a rant for another day.


05-20-2008, 05:30 AM
Male MC, sixteen or seventeen years old

05-20-2008, 06:26 PM

05-20-2008, 06:26 PM
In general:

Control - its many forms and the pros and cons thereof
Loss of someone important to the MC. Doesn't have to be recent.
Distance from family. That can be tied to the loss or not.
The dangers inherent in sexual attraction. (No, it doesn't stop the characters, just complicates things. You know, like real life.)
Discovering strength.
Sharing food = relationship building block.

In my WIP:
The number 20. No idea why, but it has worked its way into the plot.

05-20-2008, 07:53 PM
I don't really do fiction, but I've popped out a couple of short mystery stories and both had a similar element: the main character didn't actually kill someone other than setting them up or using existing or accidental circumstances.

I always loved the Nick Velvet stories by Ed Hoch wherein the title character's signature was stealing something of little or no value. If I ever did go into mystery short stories, I think the murder-that's-not-actually-a-murder would be my signature.

Probably ain't gonna happen for me tho'...both were rejected by Ellery Queen so they're making other rounds, but I'm not holding my breath. I think I'll mostly stick with the less-competitive world of non-fiction.

05-20-2008, 09:24 PM
There do seem to be a few themes or undercurrents, now that you mention it.

1. someone on trial, being made to answer for something, though often in a vague Kafkaesque sense that's not at all explicit.

2. the idea of characters trapped in stasis, where the "action" of the piece is similar to the sort of futile tugging you might see a bug doing in a spider web. It won't do any good, but they can't not do it.

3. Stimulants. Central nervous system stimulants. Very powerful central nervous system stimulants.

Allegra Lunesta
05-21-2008, 12:27 AM
Classical music, opera and ballet are recurring elements in my stories. I use a liberal amount of all things "The Wizard of Oz," as well as, metafictional interruptions, but with restraint.


05-21-2008, 04:03 AM
Have you ever discovered themes, elements, "signatures" that seem to occur in a lot of your writing?

I didn't plan it and didn't notice it until I began revising my last novel. Then I discovered a motif of fire reappearing throughout the story. Can't think why. It just happened. Nothing stands out in my current WIP but I expect once it's completed and I start revising, I'll find a recurring element of some sort.

05-23-2008, 08:21 AM
Humans possessed by machines
Machines possessed by ghosts
Men growing boobs (I have no idea here, people)
Father-Daughter relationships
Adoptive families and families by choice

I think that's it. Now my psyche and I need to have a frank discussion, possibly with the aid of hand-puppets.

05-23-2008, 08:43 AM
Exir, I'm going to break with the direction of this thread because I wanted to comment on your "themes".

These elements that you write seem (to me) to be more like symbolic imagery, perhaps even subtle allegory. Very intriguing stuff. The red leaves, the changing scenery, red splashed throughout the book... these are the kinds of things people deconstruct and analyze in literature classes!

Red is a very loaded color (psychically/emotionally/culturally), and leaves are very transient and fleeting in nature. I think you are on to something and perhaps it is only in a subconscious manner. Even so, it has my interest piqued!

aka eraser
05-23-2008, 08:54 AM
Perspective. Persistence. Nature. Interrelationships.

Lyra Jean
05-23-2008, 09:31 AM
Death, not so much with people dealing with death but that people die in all my stories.

dysfunctional families, probably because I came from what is considered a dysfunctional family. Not like the family is like "oh we have problems we need to fix them." but more like they don't realize they are dysfunctional because that is all they know but to the reader it is pretty clear.

05-23-2008, 01:18 PM
These elements that you write seem (to me) to be more like symbolic imagery, perhaps even subtle allegory. Very intriguing stuff. The red leaves, the changing scenery, red splashed throughout the book... these are the kinds of things people deconstruct and analyze in literature classes!

Red is a very loaded color (psychically/emotionally/culturally), and leaves are very transient and fleeting in nature. I think you are on to something and perhaps it is only in a subconscious manner. Even so, it has my interest piqued!

The Chinese consider red to be the lucky color, and central to the arts and culture. Maybe that's why.

And I don't know about leaves. I guess I like them because one can describe them in infinite ways. You could make them twirl with the wind, bristle, swish, crackle as the person steps on it, fall gently on the ground, form a blanket... You could bury your feet in it, you could bury yourself in it, you could play with it... I think it is a very cinematic object in a sense, because you can make it do a lot of things depending on the mood you want to convey. And it is also a good stand in for things. For example, instead of seeing someone walk away, you can hear the leaves crackling, etc...

05-23-2008, 05:57 PM
Romantic love.
Platonic love.

Good being perceived as evil
Platonic love

Couple other things I'm not realizing, I'm sure.

Male MC, sixteen or seventeen years old

I was intrigued by these lists of cryptic elements. I especially like
Platonic Love

It got me to thinking: do i have any such inexplicably repeating items?
small flying creatures?
helpful drunks?
helpful goddesses?

05-24-2008, 03:00 AM
I used to start off almost every scene with a vivid description of some wild weather event because in my stories my character's emotions trigger bad weather. I've realized I've been over doing it so I try to be very careful with repeating the same stuff now. Since my characters are gods they share alot of similiar powers and parlour tricks. One of the things I've used to death is shooting lighting from the hands. I did something really different in my current story...instead of having Persephone, goddess of spring time, shoot lighting at Hades's dog, I made her turn into a raging whirlwind, lift the dog up and whack him against the wall knocking him out. Ha ha ha ha. Awesome. I think repeating the same stuff is bad and makes readers bored. Although, struggling to think of different ways to have gods do battle is starting to do my head in.

05-27-2008, 12:03 AM
These days, it seems like everything I write has the same theme, and it's driving me crazy. Every story I tell these days is about the failure of love -- about the moments when loving someone just isn't enough, when it becomes destructive, when the right thing, the only thing, to do is to just let go. Mostly, my protagonists don't manage this. Sometimes they do.

05-27-2008, 02:30 AM
Male MC (always)