Literary Devices: Symbols and Motifs


Literary devices, such as symbols and motifs, can easily be confused. Symbols are motif symbolusually an object that stands for a concept. The dictionary definition is “a thing that represents or stands for something else, especially a material object representing something abstract.”   Take, for instance, a picture of a heart can mean love or the color green can represent ‘go,’ or growth, or even the country Ireland. Symbols are something concrete that reminds us of something else. Symbols may only occur once in a story, or they may be reoccurring. In that case, they are contributing to the motif.

The literary device of a motif is a recurring element in the story, that can be either a concept or a symbol relating to that concept. Motifs can be symbols, sounds, actions, ideas, or words. These elements are laced throughout the work to reinforce and strengthen a story by adding images and ideas to the theme or main message the author wants to convey to the reader.

peacockstaleIn my book, The Peacock’s Tale, the symbol of the peacock was used to signify when the main character, Priscilla Vickers, came upon a clue which would guide her to new revelations concerning a family secret. This reoccurring symbol created a motif which enforced the idea that the peacock was an important object in her family’s history and a clue to a secret that was thought to be lost.

Symbols and Motifs are there to help you, as a writer, communicate to the reader your theme or central idea. The reader will gain a deeper understanding of the concepts you have presented in your story from using these literary devices. Don’t be afraid of them! Use them as they come to you either in your planning of the story or if they just come naturally to the story.

Have you used symbols or motifs in your stories? I would love to hear from you! Comments are always welcome.

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