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Motifs, themes, and sagging middles


(First seen on the Pink heart Society blog)



The first three chapters are a blast. Right? Most people who say "one day I'm gonna write a book!" stop about there. The ideas have been flowing, the prose singing, the characters orating like crazy and then you type Chapter Four and... Nothing.

For suddenly all that wonderful exposition and fun and excitement has hit a point where it needs a point. A book can't run on witty prose alone. It needs a spine, a reason for being. So what is it that you are trying to say?

Now might be a good time to take a break and go back to the beginning and find out what that thing is. With highlighter in hand if you work on paper, or the highlight button in sight if you are working in Word, get ready to look for certain things that can pull you through to the next stage.

one word: motifs

This is one of my favourites. Wikipedia calls a motif: a recurring fragment, theme or pattern in a creative work. A recurring element that has symbolic significance in the story. Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes. The motif can be an idea, an object, a place, or a statement.

The discovery of a motif or two in one's story can be a magical thing. I'm sure many more organised writers design these things from the beginning. For me they seem to occur organically, which means they can easily be lost within the prose unless I go looking for them.

Do you have any recurring motifs? Any themes or cultural references you keep harking back to? Any one liners that you threw in there for fun that suddenly have resonance? A harbinger of good news or bad? Something that sums up your leads' mottos in life? An undercurrent or thread in a secondary story that balances with that of the main story? Find it, and make note. It will help you move things forward I promise!

In FALLING FOR THE REBEL HEIR I found the motif of Shakespeare's Henry V. The hero accidentally quoted the play which got my heroine all excited as she had a double English lit major. I googled the play to find out where the quote came from (I was clever enough to remember the reference but not the exact scene!!! Gimme a break!) It turned out he'd quoted from the proposal scene at the end. See, magic! Now how could that not become a running theme through the book? This is a romance remember.

From there ... my hero’s house gained a massive library that he loved trawling as a kid (mostly because he loved pushing himself around on the ten foot ladder on wheels mind you ;)). And while rediscovering the library during the story he stumbled upon a copy of Henry V and while reading the proposal scene he discovered amazing things about himself, his place in the world, and what he has to offer a woman. His feelings about his life and about the heroine come into clearer focus because of it. The play even comes back at the end of the novel helping round things out very nicely.

Without the discovery of this motif, those later scenes would not have evolved. And with them, ideas for new scenes, scenes that would add depth, and echoes, and reverberation throughout the book sprang up like crazy.

Presents author Trish Morey and I had a grand discussion about such things a while back. She said that she loves it when those lines or moments appear at the beginning of a book and you have no idea what they mean, or what they will allude to later on, and suddenly when you’re three quarters of the way through the book you realize that that one moment, that one line has such an important resonance it could almost be the fulcrum from which the whole book balances!

Or words to that effect ;).

See if you can find any throwaway lines that can be weaved through the story to give it meat and depth. Highlight them all in one colour. Make notes on any ideas that spring from them.

Then type Chapter Four and see what happens next!



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