Today on Writer’s Glossary…
Originally a musical term of German origin, leitmotif is a symbol or
narrative idea that recurs throughout a work to reinforce the story’s main theme.
For instance, in the film Black Swan uses mirrors as a leitmotif to represent the theme of duality and fractured reality, which are also represented by the Swan Lake ballet.
In Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens, Estella is hard and cold and she is often referred to in those terms, even down to her name, which means star – a cold, hard, distant thing.
Leitmotif can be a hard one to pin down, but once you start to look for them, they become easier to spot. In terms of using this technique in your own work, start with your themes and think about how you can play with them, using recurring objects or descriptions. It often comes naturally, so don’t force it. Subtlety is key, otherwise you risk falling into melodrama.