A motif in literature is a common idea or theme used repeatedly in the same work. It is symbolic and carries more than just a literal meaning. Motifs and their symbols lead to an overall better understanding of the story and its theme.
Motif can be expressed as a collection of symbols that represent an idea or emotion. For instance, in order to write about isolation, an author may include an empty room or barren desert. Often, a motif is expressed as contrast, such as light and dark. Symbols like a candle in the darkness may contribute to this motif.