MusingsPersonalWritersWriting

Signature vs. M.O. in Writers

Anybody who has spent any time reading my blog here knows that I’m a total forensic geek–particularly forensic psychology. For anyone who writes books involving crime–be it suspense, romantic suspense, cozies, hardboiled mysteries, whatever–it’s important to be aware that serial criminals, more specifically serial killers, have signatures and a modus operandi. The latter is how the crime is committed. This is something that tends to evolve over time since most bad guys don’t start out committing the perfect crime. They learn from their mistakes and evolve if they aren’t caught. A signature, on the other hand, is something that remains static. It is the thing the killer is compelled to do. It’s like a recurring theme between victims. Very often this is the thing that allows authorities to tie cases together as being perpetrated by the same bad guy.

Writers are the same. For a writer, M.O. is more like our style. This is something that evolves and gets refined with experience. We figure out what works and what doesn’t for our stories. A signature, for a writer, is more like a pet theme. Pot pointed out to me tonight that one of my big pet themes is having the hero and or heroine make assumptions about the other and being proved wrong. This is a favorite of mine because people in general don’t tend to look beyond the surface. They make assumptions about others based on what they see and experience and then make judgments based on that information and on their personal schemas. Unless something challenges those assumptions, they keep them. It’s a classic and time-honored way to create conflict, and conflict, dear readers, is a writer’s bread and butter.

Signatures for writers can be a great thing–it keeps readers coming back to a particular author because they get a fresh, new story but with a theme they enjoy. Take La Nora for example. She routinely writes stories about empowering women–whether the women are confident to begin with or have to find their strength through the story. You also see repeated themes of the friendship of women, the importance of family, families made up of more than blood. And I come back for every book because I know there will be a fresh take with more of the same.

What’s your signature?

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