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GatodeCafe
08-23-2008, 12:00 PM
Lately, I have been fascinated by the organization and execution of motifs. Currently, I am working on a novel, essentially a series of mostly-unrelated flash pieces, and I've been really focusing on bringing the motif out into the forefront. My motifs includeactions, (specifically sneezing among others), phrases ("Have you seen my spring roll?" "Gan bei, oye" and "oye tonto") as well as other things. One thing that really enchants me is my characters "finding themselves" in situations, like... Conflict in isolation, it's fastinating.

Anyhow, I ramble. What I mean to say is: how do you use motifs in your work? Do you use a lot? few? Do you work them out beforehand, or do you allow them to develop? well??

Deccydiva
08-23-2008, 02:31 PM
The term motif is not one that I am familiar with in the writing sense :Huh: *rushes off to basic writing questions to find out* so I can't answer the question yet...

-be back soon!:gone:

Ms Hollands
08-23-2008, 03:00 PM
I though a motif was something you sew onto clothing...

Robert Toy
08-23-2008, 03:09 PM
In French it means motives (purpose, reason...)

dpaterso
08-23-2008, 03:12 PM
I take it to mean visual theme.

-Derek

Bayou Bill
08-23-2008, 03:49 PM
Lately, I have been fascinated by the organization and execution of motifs. Currently, I am working on a novel, essentially a series of mostly-unrelated flash pieces, and I've been really focusing on bringing the motif out into the forefront. My motifs include actions, (specifically sneezing among others), phrases ("Have you seen my spring roll?" "Gan bei, oye" and "oye tonto") as well as other things. One thing that really enchants me is my characters "finding themselves" in situations, like... Conflict in isolation, it's fastinating.

Anyhow, I ramble. What I mean to say is: how do you use motifs in your work? Do you use a lot? few? Do you work them out beforehand, or do you allow them to develop?
I'm not sure I'm on the same page as Gato concerning his use of the term, motif. Here are four, writing-related, definitions.

Dictionary.com
A recurring subject, theme, idea, etc., esp. in a literary, artistic, or musical work.

American Heritage
A recurrent thematic element in an artistic or literary work.
A dominant theme or central idea.

WordNet
A unifying idea that is a recurrent element in literary or artistic work; "it was the usual 'boy gets girl' theme" [syn: theme (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/theme)]

To me, the use of pet phrases or mannerisms is a great tool for rounding out characters, but I'm not sure if "motif" would be the most generally accepted term for that device.

As always, my opinions are subject to change with or without notice.

Bayou Bill :cool:

Deccydiva
08-23-2008, 04:39 PM
Thanks... I've had a look around too and found similar definitions but I am also having trouble relating it in the same way as the OP... I'll come back when there are a few more comments up and see how the thread is developing, hopefully I'll learn something.

alleycat
08-23-2008, 04:50 PM
Thanks... I've had a look around too and found similar definitions but I am also having trouble relating it in the same way as the OP... I'll come back when there are a few more comments up and see how the thread is developing, hopefully I'll learn something.
Motifs can be any number of things (object, phrase, idea . . . ). One of the classics that I think of when the motif is an object is those things which holds magical powers in fantasy stories or myths, such as the sword Excalibur or a magic ring.

Deccydiva
08-23-2008, 04:58 PM
Yes that makes sense, thanks!

stephenf
08-23-2008, 06:11 PM
I was o k with the word motifs, but includeactions ?

Ms Hollands
08-23-2008, 06:17 PM
Oh, in that case, my recurring motif is a prawn baby (figure that one out).



I was o k with the word motifs, but includeactions ?

hehehhe...

Ms Hollands
08-23-2008, 06:20 PM
Oh, and a guitar-playing duck (a soft toy)...and music...

Judg
08-23-2008, 06:42 PM
Motifs do recur, but not everything that recurs is a motif.

I think that's where GatodeCafe's use of the term breaks down.

So now the question is, do we want to discuss the use of motifs or of various recurring elements?

I'm going to tackle the latter for the time being. Recurring actions or pet words should be used with great care. They can become highly annoying tics. Used to help define a character, they can be very useful as long as you don't hit readers over the head with them. I often use the word pink in the descriptions of one character, for instance, although I try to be subtle about it and certainly don't use it every time she walks on the stage.

Guy Gavriel Kay did a lot of this in his earlier books and just about drove me to distraction. If he hadn't been such a fine writer otherwise... In Last Light of the Sun, a historical fantasy in an early medieval setting, he had the male characters frequently going outside a tavern and urinating on the wall. I wanted to scream: "Yes. We got it. There was no indoor plumbing and men pee standing up." A couple of times the outdoor urinating was necessary for the plot, which was fine, but most of the time it was there for texture. If I had been his editor I would have asked him to cut the other instances.

So my thoughts on the subject are that recurring actions, or words, are like powerful seasonings. Used with restraint they are wonderful. Overdo it, and you'll make the readers gag and it will overwhelm anything else you're doing in the story.

GGK survived his over-seasoning only because the rest of the story had so much substance and flavour on its own, it could hold up to the excess spice. Not very many people can pull this off. And in his latest book Ysabel there are no nervous tics, which makes it much stronger.

tehuti88
08-23-2008, 07:54 PM
Recurring themes and subjects etc. etc.? I use them all the time I guess, but only because they fit in. Once in a while I'll use one to be humorous. (For example, I'll have different characters repeat similar phrases in different contexts and at different points in a story, sort of like a running joke.) Other recurring motifs might be more symbolic in nature for me. I do it purposefully, but it just feels natural, like describing a setting or writing dialogue, so I don't tend to think of it much on its own.

If one tries TOO HARD with a motif then it comes across as forced and kind of loses its impact; it becomes a cliche. Not to mention that some motifs might not be understood by all readers, so there's a chance some can be overlooked. For example I tend to use Jung's ideas of archetypes in my writing, and I'm fairly certain most of the people who read my stuff would not see the deeper connection. Oh well.

Sorry if I misunderstood the idea of "motif," it sounds a lot like "symbol" or "recurring element" to me in the context used here.

GatodeCafe
08-24-2008, 07:37 AM
Hey folks, I apologize if my meaning wasn't clear. Reading your posts, I now realize what I'm talking about is more commonly referred to as a "recurring element". I have roots in music, and the musical motif is essentially a direct analogue to the literary element I have in mind, but I think you have the gist of what I'm talking about regardless.

Bayou Bill
08-24-2008, 02:38 PM
Hey folks, I apologize if my meaning wasn't clear. Reading your posts, I now realize what I'm talking about is more commonly referred to as a "recurring element". I have roots in music, and the musical motif is essentially a direct analogue to the literary element I have in mind, but I think you have the gist of what I'm talking about regardless.
A subtle shading of difference between the two art forms definitions.

As others have indicated, it's easy to over-do a "recurring element" in a character. Used sparingly, such as Horatio Hornblower's seasickness, they can be effective. But it might be safest to use them primarily to "flesh out" minor characters.

Bayou Bill :cool:

kuwisdelu
08-24-2008, 10:04 PM
Motifs relate back to the overarching themes and subject matter of the work, like the green light in The Great Gatsby which reflects back upon everything it stands for. Chuck Palahniuk is fond of calling them "choruses," like "The first rule of Fight Club is you don't talk about Fight Club" or "I am Joe's enflamed kidney," etc.

The key is to be very careful in their distribution. Too much and it starts feeling fake, annoying, and boring. But sprinkled in just right, they can lend a great layer to your writing.

The question as far as whether your recurring elements are motifs or not: are they related to your themes, subject matter, etc.? Maybe they do, but it doesn't sound like it right now. If these actions don't really reflect back on anything meaningful, use them more sparingly. Or maybe choose something more thematic to make a motif.