One of the recent forum posts on Scribophile (www.scribophile.com) asked about writing signatures. Specifically, what element or elements appear in most or everything you write.
Answers were, as you would expect, all over the map. One of the most common was food. A surprising (to me, at least) number were music related, in which the author intentionally added a musical element somewhere in the story. Some had scenes or entire stories that took place in a desert. Some always had character names that started with a specific letter, or always had a character with a specific name. Those seemed to be the most common signatures expressed, though there were at least a dozen others mentioned, but never more than once.
It got me started thinking about my own signatures, of course, though I’m a lurker in the forums and rarely comment unless I get really jazzed about a topic. I commented on this one, if only to say what my signatures are. Food is one. I tend to include detailed food dishes in my stories. Handguns is another. I have a lot of knowledge about handguns and I tend to have my characters use them or talk about them in some way.
Having a signature can be a real boon to a writer. It gives you a chance to become a part of the story. I know that can sound stupid, after all the whole story takes place in the writer’s head before it ever gets to the screen (or paper, if you write longhand), but typically the author is at one remove from the story that’s being written. Being able to incorporate a nice coq a vin or some kind of exotic appetizer into a story can be a lot of fun, though fish sticks and buffalo wings have their places too.
Using a signature also gives you a chance to educate your readers about whatever the subject is. How many of you got excited to have coq a vin again? And how many of you had to look it up (it’s a chicken and wine dish, very rustic origins)? I don’t know about you, but when I read something, I like to walk away thinking I gained something from the transaction. Sure, a good story is a pleasure to read, but in fiction there’s no real gain to the reader other than entertainment unless the author has inserted something that the author knows a lot about, like cooking and/or food. I think back to the Nero Wolfe novellas, personal favorites. Wolfe was a gourmand, and food plays a role in every single novella that Rex Stout put out featuring his rotund detective. I’ve learned a bit about food from reading that series.
I tended to focus on the food signature here because that’s one universal experience that all humans have – the need to consume nourishment. It’s a powerful tool in the author’s repertoire because it can instantly connect you with any reader. While not everyone has had coq a vin, almost everyone has eaten chicken at one point in their lives and can relate to a dish that contains it, wine, and vegetables. Chicken, in fact, is almost universally known and consumed, so it’s a safe bet to include in a story. Though that shouldn’t put you off of including turtle soup or haricot vert in your story.
I’ll save you the trouble, if you don’t already know. It’s French for thin green beans.
I think including a bit of yourself in your story makes you and your story more accessible to your audience. Including a signature of some kind gives a bit of cohesion to your body of work, as well. I’m not saying you have to have a signature, but it’s certainly not a bad idea, at least that I can tell.