Using “Starting Over” as a Storytelling Motif

"Using the 'Starting Over' Motif in Storytelling" (blog post by Brenna Pierson) | |

Starting over is a fairly common theme in fiction—and no wonder, since it can be artistically worked into a story (or other literary work) in so many ways.


One of the most obvious ways to signal a restart in a story is to move the main character to a different setting. A move can automatically force someone to start over—even if he or she wasn’t planning on it. The tough part is to prevent the change of setting/starting-over idea from being too cliche (e.g., a rural resident freaks out when moving to a big city).


Playing with imagery (especially in relation to setting) can really be an effective tool when using a restarting theme in storytelling. The image at the top of this post is an amazing example. The sunrise obviously denotes starting over, but the haze in the environment can symbolize the uncertainty that can accompany a starting-over scenario.

Character and Plot

Character and plot are often tightly interwoven—especially with a starting-over plot line. This theme can be used with probably all the common plot/character motifs. A few examples are:

  • Man against man: Some evil or spiteful character causes havoc for the main character, causing him or her to need to begin a new phase in life.
  • Man against nature: A catastrophic storm or other natural event literally destroys someone’s home, workplace, etc., so that the main character must essentially begin again in some way.
  • Man against himself: This one can be quite intriguing and is probably one of the most complex scenarios. If there isn’t actually some trigger, such as in “man against nature” or “man against man,” a so-called character story or psychological thriller is perhaps in the making. And combined with one of the two previous motifs, this can be a very powerful approach.

Starting over is a powerful theme in storytelling because it is a catalyst for transformation. And just about all of the most life-changing stories are stories of transformation in one way or another.

In response to “restart.”

Grammar Guide Time!

Wondering why “starting over” is hyphenated above in “starting-over idea”? Compound adjectives that come before a noun are often hyphenated. The term “starting over” itself is not an adjective—but when put before a noun, it does become a compound adjective, and in those cases, should be hyphenated.

Exceptions include terms that are generally found in the dictionary, such as “brand new.” For example, you would not talk about your “brand-new car” but your “brand new car.”

Check out more of the “Grammar Guide.”


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