Every writer has a signature and by that I don’t mean the cursive name of the author found in autographs. Rather, I mean certain quirks of the writing which distinguish an author’s work from all others. Kurt Vonnegut often uses the phrase “So it goes” and sometimes inserts himself into the narrative (often for humorous effect). Flannery O’Connor’s stories frequently have violent outcomes. David Foster Wallace includes footnotes.
In my work, I usually mention wolves, since my family name is the Italian word for “wolf”. My play, Another Mother features a discussion about fate in which main character Leah Walker concludes, “With some playwright guiding it, you’re always at the mercy of the wolf.” In other works, mention of the Tribe of Benjamin serves this purpose, as Benjamin (with whom my ancestors identified) is compared to a wolf in Genesis 49:27. I frequently associate mention of wolves with the character David Cairo, since he’s my stand-in throughout the Expanded Universe of Fictional Atlanta.
In addition to wolves, I use dates that are meaningful to me in my work. Alyssa Walker and her husband Tim Caine were married on my parents’s wedding anniversary, 18 August. Leah Walker has my younger brother’s birthdate and was born the same year as my youngest brother. Genevieve Duchard was born on what would have been my father’s 62nd birthday the year he died. At least three characters share my birthday.
I also tend to name characters who will go on to play a role in the Expanded Universe, regardless of whether that character has a impact on the story in which he or she is introduced. For the most part, if I give the character a name, it’s likely not the last time someone will see that character in my work. In some instances, characters who are periphery to one story will headline another.
A signature may not have a direct impact on the story being told, but contributes, nonetheless to the overall effect of the writing. It gives the writer a distinctive identity that sets the writing apart from another writer’s style. Pervasive enough, a writer’s signature can be a calling card and a welcome addition to the writer’s overall mode of expression. Readers come to recognize such signatures as easily as the name on the front cover.