Using Undercurrents to Lift a Story

What do I mean by undercurrents? I write women’s fiction, mainly romance, so each story has an exploration of love at its core and the promise of a Happy Ever After at its end. But I want each book to have its own unique sense of atmosphere – that almost intangible, often emotional, awareness that stays with you long after you have finished the book. While this is created by a number of different factors, such as the plot, the style of writing, the setting, the personalities of the characters, the weather and so on, there is a subtler tool that you can also employ.threadsMost people refer to this as a motif: imagery or symbolism that is repeated throughout a narrative. I call it an undercurrent because of the way it weaves and threads its way through a story, like a secret message, often hinting at something sinister or unexpected to come.undercurrentsFor example in Kindred Hearts, the undercurrent I chose was water – not the refreshing, life-giving aspect of the element, but rather the lurking, conductive, slippery power of water and its potential threat. Near the start of the book my characters are innocently playing in the water as children, but as the story progresses the water resurfaces, several times and with varying degrees of menace – like waves eating away at sand – right through to the epilogue. It isn’t a theme I expect a reader to consciously pick up on, but my hope is that it underpins the atmosphere and helps tie the story together.

seedlingsSo what other motifs tease a reader’s subconscious? Aside from the remaining three elements (earth, air and fire), there are an unlimited variety of objects, actions, sounds, colours and phrases that can be employed as symbols. For instance in Safe With Me I use plants to echo my main characters’ struggle to put down roots and grow, and in the second book of my Wildham series, Before We Fall (due to be published August 2018) I use the colour scarlet to hint at blood, sex and death.scarlet motifThere is often more than one undercurrent running through a story, and if you are a writer you may find that they develop naturally through your writing anyway, but I suspect the key is to be both subtle and consistent.

Which undercurrents run through your favourite book?