Writing In Retirement Blog

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.

Considering Themes in Writing

themesIn writing any piece, such as a story or novel, an author writes about something. Usually, this is intentional, but at times, we write, finish, and then discover what we have written. The something that we have written about is called the Theme. Other ways to define theme include the essence, the main topic, or the central idea of the piece. The theme summaries what the story means and how it relates to the reality of life. The theme can be rather simple like ‘friendship,’ ‘family,’ or ‘companionship.’ Or the theme can be more complex such as ‘coming of age,’ or ‘love overcoming hate.’

The theme is a message that we bring to the readers via our characters’ struggles and growth throughout the story. The events of the story you write and how your characters react is how the reader can draw the thematic lessons from experiencing the growth of your characters.

The stronger the theme, the more likely the reader will connect to the story and will invest in the outcome. A strong theme is a memorable theme – one that the reader will remember long after they have finished the story. And isn’t that the experience that we want our readers to have?

How to Build a Theme

The fact is that the theme can be built in several ways. Authors can decide before writing writing with penthe theme they want to reveal to the readers. However, this may lead to reader being hit over the head with the theme and thus can become preachy and heavy-handed.  Some authors write with no particular theme in mind. Instead, they wait until the draft is done and then exam the story for a theme. They can them strengthen the theme or change it. The third way authors write is to completely ignore the idea of a theme and allow the readers to come up with their own conclusion about the story. In some instances of this type of writing, the story is not unified, and the reader comes away unsatisfied or with a skewed impression of the story.

Ideally, the author should have at least a vague idea of the theme before they write, because they have something to say about the subject. In good storytelling, the theme is a natural byproduct. Planning is helpful, but once you have determined what it is that you want to emphasize of life’s lessons; you are free to enhance that theme.

Developing the Theme

Editable vector question mark formed from many question marksAs you are thinking about the plot, ask yourself: What is the essence of the story which relates to life?  What life lesson(s) will your main character learn throughout the story?

As you write, allow the theme to be in the background – let it speak for itself. Look at your main character and ask:

What flaws in this character can be emphasized to manipulate the story to highlight the theme? Write in scenes that allow the theme to be challenged.

What plot events can reinforce the theme? Turning point events can either allow your character to succeed or not. These turning points can subtly show the why of their actions and therefore reinforce the theme.

What choices do the main character make that relate to the theme?   Sometimes the main character’s choice allows the character to succeed; sometimes they fail, and sometimes they make the ‘right choice’ and still fail due to external forces. In all these scenarios, the theme can be on display.


I hope this overview about writing themes has been helpful to you. I would urge you to look over your work in progress and see if you can identify and enhance the elements that make up your theme.

Comments are always welcome!

Always Remember – Memorial Day (Happy 2nd Anniversary to Chasing the Tale)

To honor this day and those that have served, I would like to repost a poem I have written for Memorial Day:


A Memorial Day Remembrance

By Marie Staight

Unknown soldier

On this Memorial Day, I want to remember

Those that have served

So faithfully that their bodies have surrendered.

The ones who truly deserved


To be called a hero,

Whether scared or brave

Whether surrounded by hundreds or zero

They fought until the grave.


Now they lay peacefully

In this place of honor

Taps playing mournfully

So their souls grow even fonder


Of the land, they died to protect

Of the rights, they stood behind

Of the loved ones they respect

For all – they now have peace of mind.


We come to lay a wreath

To place a Flag so dearly loved

On those that have bequeathed

To us, a life beloved.


Our thanks we need to give

As we remember their sacrifice

For because of them we live

And lead the life of paradise.


Good Night, Rest your souls

Knowing under the starry sky

You are remembered and extolled

While ever, ‘God is nigh.’

A note to my readers and followers: It is difficult to believe it has been two years since I started Chasing the Tale: Writing in Retirement. Over those two years, I have written 9495 words, posted 99 times, and tripled the number of followers I had at the end of 2017. It has been my pleasure to pass on writing tips and information, as well as to post my own poems and short stories. I hope you have enjoyed them all. And if you have enjoyed them, I wouldn’t mind you passing on the information as to where others may find my blog (mstaightwriter.com). (Hint, hint/wink, wink).

As I have faithfully tried to write posts which I thought you would enjoy, I have come to the conclusion that writing weekly has taken time away from writing other things that I want to write. So I have decided to cut back from weekly posting to twice weekly – the second and fourth Mondays of the month, along with any special occasions. Looking forward to another year of sharing with you my thoughts and writings.

As always comments are more than welcome.


Another Prompt: Another Story For You

This time I am presenting a simple prompt for you: Write a poem or story about May Flowers.


I thought about writing a flowery poem about the fun of planting flowers and watching them grow. I also could have written a story about how the flowers of May remind me of the delight of knowing the warmer weather is coming.  However I think I managed to turn this prompt into quite a different story. I hope you enjoy it.


May Flowers

“Hey, May! Where’re those flowers?”

“Yeah May, I want some flowers – not this cold stuff.  Get with it!” Joey and Billy Watts kept up the taunts as they exited the school bus. “Get those Pilgrims off the boat and plant some flowers, May!”

Out of the corner of her eye, May Flowers saw the Watt’s twins picking up snow in their hands. May pulled her winter jacket around her. She kept her head down so the two boys couldn’t see the tears that were forming in her eyes. The snow was coming down furiously now. May shuffled faster in the slick snow. If she could make it to her driveway before the taunts started again, she would be OK.

Just then sloshy snow, meant to be a snowball, hit the hem of her dress and she could feel the cold snow melting down her legs. The sudden spring snowstorm was producing soft, light snow that certainly was not conducive to sticking together to make snowballs.

May rushed up her driveway and left the twins behind. Their laughter still rang out as May hurried up to the house. She climbed the back steps and was grateful for the warmth of the house once indoors.

“Is that you May?” her mother called. “I was getting worried about the roads. I’m glad you’re home. Make sure to take off your shoes, so you don’t drag in the snow.”

May could hear her mother fussing around in the kitchen. She wiped her eyes so her mama could not see her tears before she walked in her stocking feet through the mudroom into the kitchen. The kitchen had the inviting smell of baking chocolate chip cookies. Her mother looked up from the baking pan half full of golden brown cookies. “Hello, honey, I thought we could have a treat of cocoa and cookies when you got home.”

May had to smile; this was her favorite after-school treat. Her mother looked at her and frowned.

“Oh, you look cold. Why don’t you go up and put on some jeans and a sweater? These will be ready for you by then. And I’ll get the cocoa ready too.”

May obeyed her mother without comment, glad to be home and away from the Watt boys’ taunts. She headed up to her room to change and put away her books.

In less than ten minutes, she was back in the kitchen, sitting on a high stool at the kitchen island with her mother pouring her a cup of scalding hot cocoa. Her mother sat across from her. She offered May the plate of cookies. May took one and bit into it. They were still warm and gooey. After she finished off the first cookie, she cuddled her cold hands around the cup of cocoa to warm them. She knew from long experience not to try and drink the cocoa yet, or she would burn her entire mouth and throat.

“How was your day, honey?” her mother asked a bit anxiously.

May averted her eyes as she blew on her cup of cocoa. Not only was she trying to cool down the cocoa, but she was also trying to avoid that look of concern her mother had.  May knew her mother wanted to know about the bullying that had been going on for days. Suddenly tears slipped down her cheeks. And the question that had been running around her head for days, popped out. “Mama, why did you have to name me May with our last name of Flowers? It’s such a stupid name. The boys tease me about the Mayflower boat that the pilgrims came in and about May flowers that come after April showers.” Those last words she said with a sing-song voice like the Watts’ boys always said them.

The tears were flowing now, and May couldn’t seem to stop them. Her mother was quiet, and May could tell that her mother, too, was sad and near tears.

Her mother put her cup of cocoa down and said. “May, have I ever told you about when you were born?” she asked. May shook her head. Her mother continued. “Well, we had a terrible winter that year. The ground was frozen even at the end of April. We were very concerned because Papa needed to get two plantings in that year so that we could pay the mortgage. My pains started a couple of days before the first of May. Papa took me to the hospital that night, but they said it wasn’t time yet. Being the first born, it took you a long time to decide to come into this world.” She chuckled. “Because the weather was bad, they made me stay at the hospital and walk the corridors to see if that would make you come sooner.”

Her mother sat quietly, sipping her cocoa for a long few minutes then resumed the story. “Well, a day passed, and I was very tired from walking those hallways. Finally, the labor pains began in earnest. You were born in the early hours of May first. Your Papa and I were thrilled to meet you.” Mama grinned as if reliving seeing her newborn for the first time.

“But why did you name me May when you knew my name would be May Flowers?” May persisted, as she tried to hold back the anger in her voice.

Mother looked at May a few minutes as she gathered her thoughts. “Well,” she said slowly. “You were born on May first, so that seemed like a name that would fit you. But we didn’t just name you May – we named you May Hope Flowers. Papa added that middle name because he told me that the day had dawned warm and sunny. He showed me out the window that the crocus had begun to pop their heads up out of the earth, and the birds were singing. You had brought us ‘hope’ May. Hope that the ground would be soft enough to plow and put in an early crop. Hope that the summer would be good for our farm and we would be able to pay the mortgage. Hope that your birth would bless our family.” Mama stopped staring off into the distance and looked at May. “And all those things happened. We have been very blessed by your coming to us, May.”

She took another sip of her cocoa and began again. “When the children tease you about your name you can remind them that your full name is May Hope Flowers. That’s the miracle of May, honey. May brings hope to the world that the warmer weather is coming. That the sun will shine brightly and the earth will warm and be ready for planting and eventually harvesting.  May Hope Flowers is a testament to the things that bring hope – just like the ship named the Mayflower that signified hope for a new beginning in a new land. May Flowers is all about hope, honey, all about hope.” Mama smiled brightly at May. “You are Hope, Honey. You are Hope.”

May sat staring at her mother. The tears had stopped. She nodded her head. She took another cookie, and with each bite, she felt better. “Thanks, Mama.” She took a third cookie and jumped off her stool and ran for the TV room. In her heart, May knew that never again would she be upset about her name. She was May Hope Flowers, and Hope made all the difference.


I hope you enjoyed this short story.  Did you write a story or poem from this prompt? Comments are welcome.

The Picture Prompt II: A Story for You

Things to know about Mary Cassatt; an American that spent her adult life in Paris. She became friends with Edgar Degas, the Impressionist painter who was well known for his paintings of ballerinas and dancers. Mary either was a pupil or a collaborator with Degas.

Cassett Painting
A painting by Mary Cassatt

The Parisian Dance Moms

Madame Collette took little Maria’s hands in hers and looked at her mother. “Oh Madame, she has wonderful bone structure! Such delicate hands! She will make a fine dancer like your Fannie.” Madame Colette owned the most famous dance school in Paris for young children. She trained many a young child to become excellent ballerinas for the stage. “You must bring her to me when she is four and I will train her.”

The mother beamed as she looked adoringly at her newest little girl. Maria’s nanny, the American slave girl Penelope, was anxiously watching the Mother’s face as she knew that Madame Marchand was counting on her second daughter to follow in the footsteps of her older sister who now was taking lessons from Madame Collette.

“I must go and teach now. So busy today! Classes and Mr. Degas is coming to sketch today.” Madame Collette said as she dramatically glided away from the trio of mother, nanny, and child.

“Did you hear that Penny? Madame Collette said she would take little Maria at four! That’s even younger than she took Fannie!” Penny nodded her head feeling sorry for little Maria. Fannie had just finished a private lesson with the dance instructor and was resting before she took the group lesson. Penny knew the seven-year-old was a favorite of Madame Collette, but she paid for it by having no time to do anything else but dance and coming home each day exhausted.

The little family settled into chairs in the waiting area outside the studio. Maria begged, and fussed to be set down on the floor. To entertain her, Penny rolled a ball to Maria. She was soon happy playing there on the floor. The door to the studio opened, and the other mothers arrived carting their children behind. Each mother busily assisted their little girls into pink tutus and laced up their ballet slippers. Most happily went into the studio alone, but a few were crying at the thought of leaving their mothers and entering the domain of Madame Collette.

Penny couldn’t blame them. From behind the studio doors, they could hear the sharp voice of Madame Collette shaming a crying child and making them stand in the corner by the barre as the other children warmed up. They could hear Madame Collette thumping her cane on the floor as she kept time with the music. The mothers could also hear the thwack of her long thin cane on a child’s legs which were not correctly set as they practiced the ballet positions. Penny flinched each time she heard that noise as it reminded her of her early years before coming to Paris with her American Master.

“Mrs. Marchand, congratulations! I heard little Fannie is to have three solos in the next review. What an accomplishment!” said Madame DeBois.

Madame Marchand smiled, “Yes, yes, little Fannie is working very hard this year. Madame Collette has great faith in her.” Penny heard a trace of restraint in Fannie’s voice. “And your little girl? What is she to do in the review?”

Madame DeBois’ smile tightened, “Why I am hoping she will be in one of the trios.”

“Hmm,” Replied Madame Marchand as she nodded her head. She returned the tight smile and said. “Just today Madame Collette said that little Maria here has excellent features for dance. She said I should start her here when she is four.”

Penny had observed this before among the mothers. They vied between them for their daughters to be better than one another. The doting mothers rivaled each other to promote their child. Madame Marchand was by far the best at this game because Madame Collette favored Fannie.

Penny’s thoughts were broken by the studio door suddenly being flung open, and a child came running out scrambling among the chairs to find her mother. The child was sobbing. Penny recognized the child as Susanne DeBois. Penny couldn’t understand what the child was saying other than she “never wanted to come back.”

Madame Collette appeared at the door. “Madame DeBois, your child has not practiced properly; please don’t bring her back unless she does her work at home.” Her voice was flat and authoritative. She turned and marched back into the studio shutting the door behind her.

Penny watched as a furious Madame DeBois grabbed her daughter’s hand and drug her to the door. At the same time, a little man dressed in black struggled to come in the door. He was toting an easel and a large sketch pad. The sobbing Susanne and the easel became entwined as they each attempted to make their way in the opposite direction. Madame DeBois jerked on Susanne’s arm and freed her. She gave the little man a disgusted look and retreated down the hallway.

The little man stood watching the mother and child go. With a shrug of his shoulders, he managed to gather his equipment together and into the waiting area. He tipped his bowler hat towards the mothers and proceeded to the studio door. Without even knocking he entered Madame Collette’s classroom.

“That must be Edgar Degas.” Whispered Madame Marchand. “You know he is an accomplished artist. I wonder why he is here.”

“To paint someone?” Penny said.

“No, I think he is going to sketch the whole class.”

Penny wondered how Madame Collette would deal with that kind of interruption to her teaching. However, they heard no upraised voices coming from the classroom. The wait seemed extra-long on this day. Maria yawned and climbed into Penny’s lap. She cuddled into her shoulder as Penny softly sang to her. Soon Maria was asleep. Finally about four o’clock the little ballerinas filed out the door. They all looked exceedingly tired. Fannie was last to exit.

Madame Marchand stooped to help Fannie take off her ballet slippers and put on her street shoes. Penny let out a soft gasp when she saw the little girl’s feet. They were blistered, and some areas were bleeding. She saw tears forming in Fannie’s eyes, but she did not utter a complaint. Penny hoped they would go home by cab rather than make the little girl walk the five blocks to their home.

Penny was relieved to leave the stuffy waiting room. She carried Maria as Fannie and Madame Marchand walked in front of her. Fannie was limping. Not for the first time she thought Poor little girls, they are bound to suffer for being dancers. She shook her head and wondered who was more a slave, herself, or these two precious girls?

I hope you enjoyed my story. Comments are always welcome.



Writing from a Prompt: A Picture Prompt

It is always fun to stretch your creativity by designing a story from a writing prompt. Looking at a picture gives you plenty of visual clues as to what you want to include in your story. Take some time to absorb the whole picture and the details that appeal to you. Think about how the picture makes you feel. Sad? Happy? Excited? Does the picture appeal to any or all of your senses? Are there clues to the setting? Perhaps the time of year is indicated such as winter or fall? Is there any action in the scene? If there is a person or persons in the picture, study their face(s) to sense their age, mood, or interactions with other parts of the pictures.

Look for small clues as to what might be occurring in the picture. I once wrote a storyRenoir_Boy_with_a_Toy_Soldier about a portrait by Renoir:  A Boy with a Toy Soldier. I focused the story on the red toy soldier he held in his hand. It was just a tiny detail of the picture, but that is where I saw the action and motive for the child to stay still for the portrait.

Today I would like to present this picture prompt to you. This is a painting by Mary Cassatt an Impressionist painter who specialized in painting women and their children. Take in the details of the picture. Perhaps do some research on Mary Cassatt and her painting style. Do any words or phrases come to mind as you study the painting? What about the colors in the picture – does that spark some sensory feeling? See if you can develop an interesting story about what is happening in this picture.

Cassett Painting

Good Luck to you all. I would love to see the story ideas that you develop for your stories. You can leave them in the comment section below.



Poetry Month: The Erasure Poem.

The last poem format we are going to talk about this month is the erasure poem, also known as the blackout poem or the redacted poem. The erasure poem is not a new concept, but it is a form which lends itself to those who are unsure of their ability to write poetry because it limits your choice of words.

Erasure poetry is a form of “found poetry.” It is created by erasing words from a “found text” and using the leftover words to form your poem. It is akin to an artist that takes an already drawn picture and erases lines to form a whole new picture. You take a text which you have no authority over, i.e., you did not author, and then you exert your judgment as to the words that have meaning, cadence, and your voice to reform it into a poem. So out of the “found text,” you create a poem.

Working with a block of text such as a passage from your favorite book or song, or a pamphlet you received in the mail, or for that matter, an advertisement on a cereal box limits the choices of words you have to choose from to compose your poem. Therefore you must carefully select words that have substance to their meaning; that expresses a sense of beauty, and that can be used to create rhythm. Choose words that reflect your voice. Once you have chosen the words, push them around until you have created a story or word picture that pleases you.

As you work with your selected words, you are now able to control the line breaks, the punctuation, the stanzas, and the new title.


Here is an erasure poem I created  from The Star-Spangled Banner

Original text:

O! say can you see by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O! say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?


The erasure poem:

The Dawn’s Light

        By Marie Staight

O! See the dawn’s light,                   dawn

Proudly gleaming.

Whose bright stars fight?

We watched streaming,

The red, bursting the air,

Proof the night was there –

That star-spangled wave

O’er the land free and brave.


I also created a poem from the opening lines of one of my favorite books – Pride and Prejudice.

Original text:

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.

However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighborhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered the rightful property of someone or other of their daughters.”

– Opening two paragraphs of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin


The Fate of Regency Daughters

                                 By Marie Staight

A single man                                         Regency Girls

A good fortune

Want of a wife.

 Little known feelings

In the minds of families

Considered of daughters.


I hope the poem formats I have discussed over Poetry month have inspired you to try a hand at composing some poems.

All comments are welcome!