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Monday, November 10, 2008

Literary Signature

Have you ever noticed that the best writers leave a signature in their words? You can pick up a torn scrap from their book where the nouns have all been blacked out and still know who the author is because of those tiny clues they leave behind.

My roommate in college had a never-fail system for guessing which quotes belonged to Shakespeare. "If the sentence is backwards, and makes no sense, and you don't know who wrote it, that's Shakespeare."

I can tell Terry Pratchett by his word choice*
. I can guess my favorite sci-fi authors by the way each character reacts. Sensible and strict is Ky Vatta by Elizabeth Moon, alternating between cautious and insane is John Geary by Jack Campbell, slitting throats and blowing up citadels is Beka Roslin-Metadi by Doyle and MacDonald.

Poetic adventure is the province of Tolkein and Scott Card.

If chalk and skull are used several times per chapter, it's a good bet you're reading the Dresden files.

During NaNo I see this emerging with my friends. LG, notably, is addicted to symbolism. Inky seems to have something shiny and glass in every book. Merc is big on pain and suffering. And I expect Rie's characters will all live Happily Ever After.

For me, it's names. I love to have names that mean something if you know the joke. In Skippy...

Scipio/Skippy - Scipio is the name of a noted Roman general who defeated Hannibal and who was the grandfather to the Gracchi.

Haus Mus- Goes by Mouse... and Mus is Latin for mouse. And Haus sounds like house.

Ali Cattarma- Goes by Alley Cat

Nanoc- The civilized goblin? Read backward reads Conan, as in the barbarian.

I tend to do this in all my writing. In NNN every teacher has a name that ties in with ravens. Bran Corvus (both Latin terns for raven). Munin and Hugin, the ravens of Odin. Morrigan who turned into a raven. And a teacher named Raven.

Maggie Finn in DoJ? Maggie means pearl, but it's also a derivative of Meg and Meg is the short term for Carcharodon megalodon, the extinct shark of titan proportions that was an apex predator in the Pleistocene epoch.

That story also has a character named Portia Will.... Portia from the play Merchant of Venice and Will after the author of the same play.

So, what about you? Do you have some inside joke you like to include in every book? Do you manage to sneak in a reference to someone or something you love? Will some future reader laugh out loud when they find the signature you've included?

*And his footnotes.


  1. I've only written one full-length book, but I included a couple of "inside jokes." At one point, my MC makes fun of southern girls with double names--which, of course is exactly what I am.

    At another point, the fictional college where my story is set plays a baseball game against my real university alma mater...and loses. Because, really, nobody is better than my alma mater--not even fictional teams. ;)

    Loved this post--I'm going to look for signatures in my favorite works now!

  2. That's fun :o)

    Now I'll know to read your book and find out who your alma mater is.

  3. Hmmm, signatures?

    Yes, symbolism is HUGE.

    But I'm also bound to add shameless references to classic literature.

    And I'm also bound to, uh, put a lot of sexual tension between characters.

    Names for you, huh? You know, on a specific level, that's considered symbolism. ACK!

  4. Is it? I just like names to have some meaning. :o) I think it's fun if you can figure out what a name means and glean some hint about the book from it.

  5. You forgot my obsession with eyes, blindness, bells, scimitars and zombies. B-)

    Depending on the book, I like to make nods to either shows and books I like, Lovecraft, or whatever has my ADD attention span for the moment.

    And when I can be bothered to think far enough in advance, I too like using names as symbolism. (Usually it's way, way too blatant, but that's me for you. :P)

    This inspires me to rant about my signatures and obsessions. See what you've done, you've inspired a monster. %-) Bwhahahaha!

    Great post, Lei. :D


  6. I adore signaturey kind of stuff, but I really haven't done enough of my own work to know what my signature is, ya know? Though:

    Inky seems to have something shiny and glass in every book.

    I might have to take you up on that :D ...Do I really? I know Jesscapades does, but everything else??

    ~Inky, off to find fun things to make signatory %-)

  7. I always put in a proverb or fundamental teaching from my martial arts style. It's a gem only a student of the art would recognize.

    I also enjoy taking the badass character from each book and making them do something entirely silly at least once.

    For instance, Kara, who was a complete badass in Lament until Din ruined her, cooks breakfast in a country shack for everyone, even wears an arpon.

  8. Wulf... answer carefully... what is so silly about cooking food or wearing an apron?