A motif is a re-occurring image, theme or element that appears throughout your novel. A dove symbolizes peace, or a snake represents evil, or a spider represents death. Motifs add color and intrigue to your novel, but you have to be tricky, subtle, underhanded in your use of them. After a first draft is a good time to distribute motifs. Spread them out, don’t just leave them at the end and marvel at your brilliance. And for gosh sakes, don’t explain them.
When your character is experiencing emotion, don’t say: She felt grief. Don’t say grief enveloped her. Don’t say she was painted in grief. Say what she is doing in response to the grief. Say what her posture is, what her hands are doing; and if she’s distracted by the grief, don’t say she’s distracted by the grief. Jane set the letter down on the counter, her hands trembling, her breath quick. She adjusted and re-adjusted her wedding band, removing it, sliding it back onto her finger. She picked up the letter again and held it to her breast and wept.