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?
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.
“Writers Talk” is the monthly newsletter of the South Bay Branch of The California Writers Club. In the June issue, Marjorie Bicknell Johnson, the editor, wrote an article titled “Power of Three”. She explains that “Information presented in groups of three sticks in our heads better than other clusters of items”. The use of a series of three words, phrases, or ideas has been used in many myths and stories, for example, the “Three Little Pigs”and “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”. Notice how many sayings are in threes: “I came, I saw, I conquered”, “Friends, Romans, Countrymen”, “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”, “Stop, look, and listen”, Location, location, location to name a few.
Two rhetorical devices used effectively in writing are anaphora and epistrophe. Anaphora is repeating a word or phrase at the beginning of three successive phrases or sentences. “He knew he had to drive her home. He knew he had to say good-bye. He knew he had to let her go”.
Epistrophe is the counterpart of anaphora in that it’s the repetition of three last words or phrases in a row. “The barking dogs drive me crazy. The cars racing down the street drive me crazy. The voices in my head drive me crazy”.
A writer who adds anaphora or epistrophe creates an engaging story, a variety in sentence structure, and often, an emotional response from the reader. Experiment with them and see if you agree with the power of three.