Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Signature

Flo is going to be a hard act to follow, not only because of her insightful blog, but also because of her thoughtful responses.

My blog today is about …. Signature. And audience. What do the two have in common?

Let me explain. Recently, there was a blog about the value of not repeating yourself and how disenchanted a reader might become with a writer who tends to do the same things in book after book. In theory, I wholeheartedly agree with that opinion.

And yet… I also know that I, like many writers, tend to tell a certain kind of story in a certain kind of way. This was brought home to me a couple of weeks ago when I watched the first half hour of Gunga Din, the 1939 movie which is a loose adaptation of Rudyard Kipling's poem of the same name.

I read somewhere that this was one of Cary Grant's first movies. I'm a big fan of Cary Grant though I had never seen this film. I'd seen many of the later ones, though, and I knew about his charming ways. Debonair, handsome, sophisticated and yet vulnerable, he was a certain era's ideal of a lovable playboy. But this, remember, was, if not his first film, one of the first, perhaps the one that launched him into stardom.

And you know what? That twenty something year old Cary Grant was every inch the same guy who made Arsenic and Old Lace in 1944 and Charade in 1963, almost twenty-five years later, both movies which I adored in the past and still watch whenever I can. Many of the same mannerisms, the same charm, the same man. I loved this guy when I was a kid and his movies were shown on television, and I still enjoy him. And no one else did what he did in the way in which he did it.

His acting was a signature of sorts. Plus, he knew his audience.

I think this is something to balance the fear that can grip you when you find yourself writing a book that seems reminiscent of another book you have already written. I'm not talking about exact events or predictable situations, I'm talking about format, perhaps, or maybe just an overall feeling the book has and the way in which you approach different parts of the writing. Maybe you have to write umpteen books for this fear to kick in, I don't know, but it's bound to occur to you at some point. And while I always strive to find a new road and not do the same thing repeatedly, I also have to admit, that there is a method, an unconscious one for sure, to the way I think of and construct a story. It's a method that comes from somewhere deep within as we all know I'm not all that analytical, but it's there.

And hopefully I also know my audience. I think it's wonderful my husband enjoys my stories, but the truth is, he is not my buying audience. And while he might enjoy a bloodier gunfight now and again, that's not always on my -- or my audience's agenda. I don't think in genres, I think in stories and my stories reflect me. If I were an actor, I imagine there would be scripts I would reject, if I were a movie director, there would be material I was drawn to bring to life.

I am not suggesting that writers, actors and directors do the same thing over and over again. I am simply stating -- in a general way that is not a universal statement -- that there is within most writers and perhaps most creative souls, a certain viewpoint and voice and a methodology and that it's okay. If it's enjoyable to readers -- to the artist's target audience -- it will keep them looking for their work. It will make their work distinctive, and it might be as hard to change as a fingerprint.

I cannot speak for everyone, nor would I presume to do so. But when I read a favorite author's work spanning twenty years -- say it's twenty books -- all in a row, say within twenty weeks -- I see the patterns, I hear the voice and if now and then I glimpse the same thing in myself -- well, it's okay.

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