Style signatures are bits of words and phrases used consistently throughout the entirety of a work (but not necessarily among my unrelated works). I would like to try using style signatures in a work of mine - things that won't stand out at individual usages, but I think the effect across a long piece will be interesting.

Patterns I'm using:

  1. Using a specific set of 'said-bookism's' everywhere in the book. eg.:
    • "~ whispered." for all dialog in low voice.
    • "~ cried (out)." for all belted out, high-voice dialog. (Notice, only in dialog tags; not in the narration.)
    • "~ asked ~." for all questions regardless of voice.
    • "~ said." for even-voiced dialog or otherwise un-indicated states.
  2. Always using double paragraph breaks to indicate change in scenes. The reader is therefore expected to 'read it with a new eye' and disregard the setting, characters and -much more importantly- the time of the immediately previous scene.

  3. Indicating pauses in speech by ellipses and em-dashes instead of the now popular comma. That's the more radical point so far (the third in the series) so I need feedback on how well it would show up to the reader since -as far as I know- it's ungrammatical.

  4. Does anyone have more suggestions?

Would this work well for the reader? That I leave invisible patterns in my writing in the paper-voice (between the narrator and reader where the narrator is a character)? I plan to partly use this as an embedded signature (again, this's an example) but I want to know how it would really work with the reader.

  • 1
    How'd this question never get an answer? I like it. Jun 1, 2012 at 4:34
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    You may indicate pauses in speech with ellipses and m-dashes; there is no grammatical rule against it. The three marks of punctuation indicate different kinds of pauses. A comma is a quick pause, an m-dash means the speaker has stopped abruptly or been interrupted, and an ellipsis means the person has trailed off. You can use all three, depending on what effect you want. Jun 1, 2012 at 10:14
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    @M.Na'el: Your edit ommitted a lot of the actual, direct question; I've edited to put it back in.
    – Standback
    Jun 3, 2012 at 13:10

1 Answer 1



I feel like you accidentally breached a little line in this question and struck out into a different category mid-question. It was in this paragraph:

"Indicating pauses in speech by ellipses and em-dashes instead of the now popular comma. That's the more radical point so far (the third in the series) so I need feedback on how well it would show up to the reader since -as far as I know- it's ungrammatical."

What I mean is that particular formatting involving punctuation choices is a very separate matter from the rest of this question, and the answer is that this must always remain consistent. To vary your punctuation or formatting by more than the slightest amount under identical or close to identical circumstances is a very, very bad idea. It jumps out to the reader and looks unprofessional, removing them from the world of your story and reminding them that they're looking at print on a page.

Always keep your formatting as close to perfectly consistent as possible.

Now to the other part of the question: maybe someone else will give a very different opinion, but personally (and I say this in all kindness) I think the idea is absurd. Perhaps I'm taking you too literally and not using my imagination, but going off the given example, it seems like you're severely limiting your word choice without adding anything.

If you use the same four dialogue words over and over and over, the reader will notice. And they will not smile to themselves and think "Oh, author, I do so love your personal flourishes!" They'll think, my God, this is getting so repetitive. Couldn't he think of anything else?

If your writing is going to have a deliberate signature, it should add to the work, not diminish it. Look at Faulkner's stream-of-consciousness passages. They're mind-bending, absolutely incredible. It's like getting caught in a storm of thoughts; all flying past you in a million shades and colors. It never gets repetitive. On the contrary, the imagery is dazzling. And you can tell Faulkner's writing at a glance, almost, just like you can tell a Biblical passage at a glance. Such a unique style.

That being said, I think there might be more to your idea than what you've detailed. I can imagine better ways of wielding such a system-- you should think on it a bit, and possibly add to your question if you feel that your chosen example and explanation didn't fully capture your vision.

  • -The signature part is, diverse. I felt it was related but couldn't really explain how. -However, regarding the said-tags word choice, I intended to make them invisible just like "said." Maybe a little variation here and there but I wouldn't say "said in a low voice" when I have "whispered." -The only way to really tell is a test run but I don't have that big an audience for my blog (globally, that's about 3 persons) so I can't test it.
    – Mussri
    Jun 1, 2012 at 9:14
  • And I deleted the examples altogether, for now...
    – Mussri
    Jun 1, 2012 at 9:14
  • I'm slightly confused-- M.Na'el edited my answer (which is fine, the edit makes sense), but I thought you couldn't make an edit unless you had a certain amount of reputation, and I don't see it marked anywhere that a mod ok'ed the revision. Am I not seeing something? Jun 1, 2012 at 18:43
  • @NeilFein see above. (Can I even tag users in questions they haven't participated in? Guess I'll find out.) Jun 1, 2012 at 23:46
  • Also @StandBack Jun 1, 2012 at 23:46

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