Foo dogs are a motif in my novel Norman in the Painting. Here is an excerpt from Chapter One. Jill meets Norman for the first time when he appears in the antique shop and asks Jill what she is holding. She answers foo dogs and he wants to more about them:
“They are believed to provide protection for you and your home, especially if you place one on each side of your doors.” She couldn’t shake the dizziness she felt since he spoke to her, but she visualized roots from her feet connecting with the center of the earth, which was her way of grounding.
“Those don’t look like dogs. Look more like lions.” The man leaned forward in his chair and then stood as if to see better.
Jill regained her equilibrium enough to move around Evelyn’s open-shelf divider. She stopped at the end of the desk and handed him one.
He turned the statue around in his hands. “Still looks like a lion to me.”
“Another name for them in Chinese is shi. It means lion, but here in the US they’re called foo dogs and have many different styles. Some look like dragons. Some are dog-like. Some even look like large cats with fluffy tails. These do look like lions.” Caution sent a fleeting thought not to be too comfortable talking to this man.
He handed the statue back to Jill and grinned. “Nice to learn something for a change. Are you a teacher?”
His grin sent a flip-flop flutter to her stomach, that same flutter she felt with Reggie when they were dating. What was wrong with her? She didn’t know this guy. “Not a teacher, I’m a CPA.” Jill took a step backwards and clasped the foo dog tighter. “Usually, there’s an older man sitting there. Are you related to him?”
Motifs are repeated through the novel. I like the power of three. The second time I refer to foo dogs is when Jill has a dream about them. She senses the dream predicts future danger. The third time, Jill takes a pair of foo dogs to her sister’s house to protect Vivian.
How do you use motif in your writing?
What is the difference between motif and theme? A motif in narrative is a recurring element throughout a literary work. A motif can be an image, words, an object, a sound, color, or ideas. A motif is not a symbol. A symbol represents something, for example, a light bulb means “new idea”. Often symbols occur once or twice in a story whereas a motif repeats and is noticeable. A motif is not a theme, it helps to develop or explain a theme, which is a central idea or message. Theme is the deeper layer of meaning beneath the story’s surface.
Motif is more concrete than theme. A good example of motif is the ring in Lord of the Rings. It is present throughout the story and helps to develop the theme of power corrupts. In the Hunger Games trilogy, the mocking jay image is a motif that recurs to promote the idea of rebellion. More than one motif can be used. In Macbeth, blood is one motif as well as light and dark, and blindness.
One of the motifs I use in Norman in the Painting is a pink running suit that Jill, the protagonist, wears. It helps to develop the theme of fear. Jill keeps in shape so she can run away from anything she doesn’t want to face. Foo Dogs are another motif. She buys several sets instead of the usual one and places them at every doorway of her house rather than the typical placement at the front door. Traditionally, Chinese Foo Dogs are imperial guardian lion statues. One male that guards the structure of the building and one female that guards the family inside. Jill appears to be capable. She works as a CPA, lives by herself, and resents her older sister telling her what to do, but underneath Jill doesn’t feel safe.
What are your motifs in your story?
The power of three in writing a novel is the idea of using an object, symbol, or some reference three times. For example, in Norman in the Painting, Jill Steele worries about security. She has double locks on her doors, an alarm system, and an extensive collection of Foo dogs. In Feng Shui, Foo dogs are placed, one on each side of the front door, to protect the house and residents. Jill has a pair, not only at her front and back doors, but at each entry to every room inside the house. She overdoes it because of fear for her safety. In the first chapter, she buys a new pair when Norman appears. Several chapters later she wakes up from a dream where an army of Foo dogs talked to her but she didn’t understand their warning which foreshadowed a threat from the antagonist a few hours later. Now I plan to use the Foo dogs one more time in the novel to complete the power of three. The impact is stronger if the object is a symbol as in Jill’s case, the Foo dogs that represent her need for protection.