Recurring Themes and Motifs in Your Stories

Lately I’ve been rereading a few of my old drafts to prep for NaNo and just to have some good, old-fashioned fun. Interestingly, I keep encountering similar ideas, icons, and thematic scenarios throughout my projects, regardless of genre or age group. Examples of recurring motifs are storms, revolutions gone awry, brother-sister rivalries, facing helplessness and being heroic anyway, blackmail, and the ever-entertaining you-didn’t-tell-me-that’s-who-you-are! reveal.

It’s kind of interesting to see what infuses my work so much–I guess it’s revealing a little bit of what makes me tick! When you write, do you notice threads that weave through your different stories? What recurs in your own work?

Most of the things I have done have included cults, people having major uses for caves and at least one band.

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I seem to have characters, that have strict consciousness. They act a little questionably and then expect to be severely punished (and think it’s just).

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Well, people get kidnapped a lot. I also have a tendency to kill people and then bring them back… People tend to get seriously injured a good many times.

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  • Here there be dragons. At least in 7 of the 9 NaNos I’ve done
  • I like using elemental powers (Fire, Earth, Air, Water)
  • I’ve also had Icarus and King Arthur (with Merlin as a guide) appear in two different trilogies in two different capacities. Death personified makes a number of appearances as well.
  • Dreams and dreaming play a big role in my books (especially my current trilogy).
  • Seals, locks, keys, and other barriers to entry
  • Gotta love those big reveals!
  • Fight sequences have been a favorite of mine to write (especially in The Constellation Tournament)
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Characters who are stuck in a certain situations, life circumstances, or with certain people who they really don’t want to be stuck in/with, but they have no way out. Now how do they deal with it?
Came up in some form or another in every. Single. NaNo. Although considering my life, that’s not entirely a strange topic to pop up.

Also playing around with themes of circumstance vs choice.

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Very compelling premise. It makes me think of the age-old conflict between fate and free will, which occasionally pops up in my own work.

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  • Androgynous men covered up in gorgeous clothes so it’s scandalous when those clothes do come off (suspiciously specific!)
  • Antiheroes
  • Underdogs
  • Good characters who are secretly bad people, and villains who turn out to be good
  • The Occult
  • Demons
  • Alchemy
  • Tarot
  • Fortune tellers and witches
  • Living dolls
  • Cathedrals
  • Manor houses on gloomy moors
  • Counts and haughty aristocrats
  • Greek myth
  • Trains
  • Love/Hate
  • Swords, sword canes, and swishy fights
  • Rococo, baroque, art nouveau, art deco, and Victorian aesthetic
  • General gothic flavor

I could go on forever. I’m an opossum in a hot mess of gothic fantasy garbage.

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… No. Just no. I’ve had nightmares about that. My one irrational fear is creepy dolls.

Mine are more sentient, humanoid creatures made with alchemy and magic. Not like… Annabelle or Chucky. :rofl:

Still gives me the creeps. My sister owns a doll collection and I keep trying to convince her to sell them. I got her to sell the one that gave me the most creeps. It always sat on a shelf above my bed and as a child I believed it would kill me in my sleep and then raid my through all of my clothes… I’ve had too many nightmares about dolls. Last nightmare I literally jumped off balcony to escape the tiny doll chasing me.

Hmm. Interesting. I definitely have some reoccuring stuff.

*Fire shows up a lot.

*God is secretly guiding hero(es) by being a companion in some form.

*Sword fights with fiery swords. Or just sword fights.

*A friend turns evil, whether by choice or not, and proceeds to turn on friends.

*Stars and other celestial bodies

*Isolation and community

*Fae

*Happy(ish) endings. (Positive trajectory endings?)

*A bit a humor, a bit of romance, a bit of horror, all rolled up in an a big adventure.

*Oceans being mysterious or chaos

*Starting an ending a story on a beach.
For reasons.

*Knights and their armor being related to armor of God from Ephesians

*References. I can’t help but make references to my favorite things sometimes.

*When I’ve done scifi, the main character always seems to be a soldier or a bountyhunter for some reason.

*3, 7, 12

*Someone is isolated, and gets chased/attacked by Fear

*Secret villains

*Faith, Hope, and Love as major themes. Also Good, Truth, and Beauty.

*Magic of some kind is always fun.

And I should probably stop as I could keep going probably, ha ha!

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I found that, in my Dream World Chronicles series, there are a few things that recur several times.

One thing is that my characters tend to die and be revived a lot. I think by the end of the series, most of the main characters will have met that fate at least once. My MMC, I think, will have had that happen twice. My readers are seriously going to be like “Again? Really?” Haha.

Another thing is brainwashing–bring “good” characters over to the “evil” side. That happens in the first three books, all to different characters. I blame this one on it being something that I’ve always enjoyed reading. I don’t know what it is, but I just love really stories where a good (usually main character) is forced against their will to join their antagonist.

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I shamelessly re-use things. Lol

  • Kidnapping at least 5 times
  • Psychological warfare
  • The age-old disagreement of our origins
  • The chance of redemption, unconditionally
  • Platonic love in a family
  • Hope (albeit sometimes unjustified)
  • Lots of sword-y things
  • A large amount of lore, from Greek/Japanese/Irish traditional mythologies and stories
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Oh, I tend to get cults too! Also on my list are cafés, disappearances, being completely lost, and there’s just a whole lot of sisters. If my MC doesn’t have at least one sister, you can be absolutely certain someone else important to the story has a sister, and the sister is probably important somehow. In fact, now that I think about it, if someone’s disappearance is the plot, it’s usually someone’s sister…

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I’m just going to list things that show up in my novels, since my short stories are where I can experiment and try things completely different.

  • Chosen family
  • Non-human characters
  • Classical elements featured prominently
  • Abused/outcast character gains power and changes things
  • Explicit consent and boundary discussions
  • Soft men and stabby women
  • Teeth and biting
  • Monsterfucking
  • Scholars (mostly linguists, though I have a couple of magical engineers and a plant biologist)
  • Battle Couples
  • Everyone is queer beware the fate of the lone able-bodied allocishet perisex man
  • Complicated loyalties
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  • Multiple names for individual characters
  • Shapeshifters
  • Hidden worlds
  • Battles against unseen/unknown evils/darkness/baddies
  • Wolves
  • Secret puzzle boxes
  • Relationship dynamics
  • Magic of some sort
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Sister! :heart: There is probably a cishet neurotypical white man in one of my stories, but i’m yet to discover him…

Also, apart from having big queer communities i reuse a lot of themes that i love.

  • Horses. Not just bc of quasi medieval setting, but i often have character(s) who are breeding really good horses, or someone from main cast is a really good rider or care very much for their horse.
  • Often my main character is really op, like being a powerful mage or really skilled politician or a loved leader - but the responsibilities are bigger than any advantages they can have.
  • Or simply a theme of a character fighting for their believes and trying to make world a better place. And getting angry over injustice.
  • Really calm and nice characters so when they are mad you know that this is baaad.
  • Low born people being elevated to nobility or ruling circles and they’re happily using their status for being an ass to important people they don’t like, but helping and being nice to other low born people like servants or soldiers.
  • Neurodivergence. Usually there is at least one person with depression, probably more, an sometimes more or less graphic suicide attempt. Also lots of less severe disorders.
  • Main theme of most of my stories circles around oppression, freedom and human rights, what it means to be human and if we can restrict/harm few people to ensure prosperity of the nation. Usually written from the perspective of those deemed too dangerous to live. Lots of secret resistance, political prisons and more or less legalized slavery. And revolutions leaders.
  • Women in power, like queens, commanders, presidents, priestesses and goddesses.
  • Public opinion glorifying national hero nearly to a cult and then POV character meet said hero who is just… a normal person, making bad jokes, or having freckles, or liking apples, or an absurd workaholic.
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Interesting, especially the bits about the good villains. Tell me more.

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Same. I call one of my villains a truthful villain because she has a fetish for never lying… She kinda turns good in the end… Kinda. Stay away from the creepy sentient dolls though.