Guest Post: Motifs and Symbols and Themes…by Laura Drake

Guest Post: Motifs and Symbols and Themes…by Laura Drake

Many thanks to guest blogger Laura Drake. This article first appeared on Romance University’s website on January 15, 2016.

Motif is any recurring element that has symbolic significance in a story. Through its repetition, a motif can help produce other narrative (or literary) aspects such as theme.

Theme is what the author is trying to tell the reader. For example, the belief in the ultimate good in people, or that things are not always what they seem. This is often referred to as the “moral of the story.”

Symbolism is the use of symbols to signify ideas and qualities by giving them symbolic meanings that are different from their literal sense.

Thematic patterning means the insertion of a recurring motif in a narrative.

I’ve used all of them in my books: An ugly scar, to remind the readers of the protagonist’s guilt and shame (Nothing Sweeter). A Laura Drakecowgirl hat to signify the protagonist’s reluctance to change (Sweet on You). White roses, to remind a mother of her grief (The Sweet Spot). Even a motorcycle, to show a character’s running from her past (Her Road Home).

These are powerful and fun to use, because they’re shortcuts; you don’t have to keep reminding the reader with flashbacks and backstory – you can have them look at the symbol, and the reader gets it.

They’re everywhere in literature. The ring, in Tolkien’s series – it’s a symbol of power, good and evil, all rolled into one. The Silence of the Lambs had lambs, but shoes, too. Speaking of shoes, how about The Wizard of Oz? Hey, this could be a nerdy game for writers on a long road trip – say the book, and the others have to guess the motif!

But before I get carried away with that, hopefully the examples above convince you of the power of these devices.

You can even use more than one symbol or in your novel, to weave a strong theme through the story. It helps deepen the emotion and glue the reader to the page.

I did this with my first women’s fiction book (released on the 11th of this month!), Days Made of Glass, I used the symbolism of glass – these are two sisters, on their own at 17 and 13. They live on the edge of society, the edge of disaster – their lives are fragile. The protagonist is a rodeo bullfighter; her teacher tells her that she has to be faster, better than the men – they’re wood, she’s glass. Then there’s her mentally ill sister, who’s shatters glass, and tries to commit suicide by slitting her wrists with it.

The symbol I used was a small glass box, a cheap trinket with a yin yang symbol on the lid.

yin yang

Yin yang represents forever, which is how the sisters think of their relationship. They’re very close. When Harlie, the eldest, has to leave her catatonic sister in a mental care facility to travel to Texas to train to be a bullfighter, she takes the glass box with her. When it’s broken, it’s the beginning of Harlie understanding that she can’t keep her sister safe – she can’t save her.

What do you think? Have you used symbols, motifs or themes in your writing? How?

What about my nerdy writer’s game? Do you have any books you can name with motifs?


Days Made of GlassDays Made of Glass – January 2016

Shared blood defines a family, but spilled blood can too.

Harlie Cooper raised her sister, Angel, even before their mother died. When their guardian is killed in a fire, rather than be separated by Social Services, they run. Life in off the grid in L.A. isn’t easy, but worse, there’s something wrong with Angel.

Harlie walks in to find their apartment scattered with shattered and glass and Angel, a bloody rag doll in a corner. The doctor orders institutionalization in a state facility. Harlie’s not leaving her sister in that human warehouse. But something better takes money. Lots of it.

When a rep from the Pro Bull Riding Circuit suggests she train as a bullfighter, rescuing downed cowboys from their rampaging charges, she can’t let the fact that she’d be the first woman to attempt this stop her. Angel is depending on her.

It’s not just the danger and taking on a man’s career that challenges Harlie. She must learn to trust—her partner and herself, and learn to let go of what’s not hers to save.

A story of family and friendship, trust and truth.


Bio: In 2014, Laura realized a lifelong dream of becoming a Texan and is currently working on her accent. She gave up the corporate CFO gig to write full time. She’s a wife, grandmother, and motorcycle chick in the remaining waking hours.

Connect with Laura via Twitter and Facebook or visit her website and her group blog Writers in the Storm.

Video of the Week #: A Surprising Collaboration

Video of the Week #: A Surprising Collaboration

Listen for what Bono and Eugene Peterson say about the importance of art.

Wordless Wednesday: Desert Landscaping

Wordless Wednesday: Desert Landscaping

Photographs ©ARHuelsenbeck 2016

12th Annual Rim Country Quilt Roundup

12th Annual Rim Country Quilt Roundup

Last Saturday three ladies from my church quilt group and I headed to Payson, Arizona for a quilt show. I took lots of pictures, but I can’t post them all, so I corralled a representative sample.

The first quilt I saw set the tone of the show for me. Look at this glowing beauty, Wilma Bling by Monika Hancock:


Hosta on Green, by Mary Dickson:


Detail. I think the points were paper pieced:


Phantom Sun Flower by Louise Bossert. Whole cloth; blue background, machine quilted in different colors to produce the design.




Double Wedding Ring by Barbara Davidson. The printed fabrics are Depression era (reproductions?). Hand-quilted:


Millefiori by Nancy Ann McFall:


Joined in Marriage by Marilyn Goblin, made for the quilter’s niece as a wedding gift:




Cabin on the Railroad by Gerri Cavanagh combines two traditional patterns, Log Cabin and Underground Railroad:




Doug’s Passion in the Pines by Kay Parch, made for her son, an avid outdoorsman:



Detail of the tree block showing pine cone quilting:


Rising and Setting Stars by Brenda Clark. I love the interplay of the light and dark fabrics:




Bursting Flowers by Sue Patterson:


I Love Delft by Judy Prince:


I love how the corner blocks feature a quarter of a Dresden Plate with loose points:


Scottsdale Rodeo by Jane Wilcox:


Detail showing mane and tail embroidered with specialty yarn:


Are you familiar with the iconic photograph of an Afghan girl taken by Steve McCurry for National Geographic magazine, which appeared on the cover of the June, 1985 issue?


This is Barbara Renoux’s Afghan Girl, executed in pieced fabric:


Detail of the girl’s lips:


Foxy Lady by Monika Hancock:




Autumn Leaves Blowin’ in the Wind by Caroline R. Johnson:


Detail showing skillful use of shadow:


My Favorite Places by Rose Ann Self, a memory quilt using a variety of techniques:


Details (click on small images to enlarge):

Two quilters made similar Halloween quilts. Happy Halloween by Rose Ann Self:



Baltimore Halloween by Fleda Gorbea:




Animal House by Brenda Dickinson:



Miniature quilt, Blooming Nine Patch by Debbie Stanton:


The nine-patch blocks are only visible up close:


Gallery of Arizona was made by the Strawberry Patchers quilt group as a fund-raiser:



My absolute favorite quilt of the show was the first one above, Wilma Bling. What about you? Which one do you like best? Don’t be shy–share in the comments below.

Monday Morning Wisdom #72

Monday Morning Wisdom #72

Every writer is a frustrated actor who recites his lines in the hidden auditorium of his skull.–Rod Serling

From the Creator’s Heart #68

From the Creator’s Heart #68

Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day (Psalm 96: 1-2 NIV).

Snippet #24 from The Unicornologist

Snippet #24 from The Unicornologist

Every Sunday, the Weekend Writing Warriors share 8-10-sentence snippets from their works-in-progress on their blogs for others to read and comment on. Join the fun! Click on the link to see the full list.

From Chapter 14: It’s the first day of summer vacation (after freshman year), and Hillary and Robin are in the woods, hiking to where the unicorn lives. Robin just griped about not getting to sleep in that morning because of their trek.

“You’ve got all summer for that, and you won’t see me for more than a week.”

“Yeah, isn’t that weird?  It’s our first time being separated for that long,” Robin pointed out.

Hillary let the thought sink in. “Sometimes I feel like I’ve known you forever.”

“I feel the same way. Being an Army brat, I’ve had a lot of practice getting used to new schools, but this time, you made it a lot easier.”

Hillary smiled and lowered her eyes. Does he like me, in a boyfriend kind of way? The prospect of spending the day with Robin just got sweeter.

I know it’s short (the limit is ten sentences), but what do you think of this small excerpt from Chapter 14? Any suggestions on how I can make it better? Please leave your comments below.

The Art of Käthe Kollwitz

The Art of Käthe Kollwitz

Käthe Schmidt was born July 8, 1867, in Königsberg, East Prussia (then, part of Germany; now Kaliningrad, Russia). She studied art in Berlin and Munich, and in 1891 married Dr. Karl Kollwitz and settled in Berlin. A painter, sculptor, and printmaker, she is one of the foremost German artists of the first half of the twentieth century.

Her early subjects were primarily poor and oppressed people. Her goal was to help bring about social justice through her art.

In 1914, her youngest son, Peter, died while a soldier in Flanders during the Great War (World War I). His loss affected Kollwitz profoundly. Thereafter, war and death were recurring themes in her work.

Her art is characterized by misery, despair, and impending death.

The video below highlights many of her pieces. Sprinkled here and there are a few less dark works.

Käthe Kollwitz died April 22, 1945, near Dresden, Germany.kathe_kollwitz_1919

Visit the links below for more information about Kollwitz:

Creative Juice #11

Creative Juice #11

Fourteen articles to impart sweet delight to your day:

In the Meme Time: Brainstorm

In the Meme Time: Brainstorm