1. Webster
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    Webster Senior Member

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    Is Literary Referencing Important?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Webster, Jun 1, 2013.

    Thought I'd try and get a discussion going about alluding to other works of literature when writing your own stuff.

    I find it fun to hide little Easter eggs in my prose.

    But it can also buttress a point trying to be made, and further engage the reader by making them look out for hidden statements which give deeper meaning to the narrative. Plus, it's always polite to tip your hat to your influences. I reckon they deserve to be acknowledged in a playful yet respectful manner, seeing as they've kinda had a beneficial effect on your life.

    Of course, the opposite can be true. Finding ways to snipe at authors you detest can be fun as well.

    Also, how often do you check something you have written, only to find annoying instances of unconscious literary theft scattered throughout? Examples of this would be welcome. If you can bear to make it public.
     
  2. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    That's "if you can bear to make it public."

    I don't look to engage in this sort of thing, because it presumes that the reader 1) has read the work being referenced and 2) will react to it the same way I did. If both are 50-50 propositions, that means my "allusion" has, at best, a 25% chance of having the impact I want it to have. What I have done is make a reference to a film - "Casablanca", actually - and then only to show that another character caught the same reference.

    Any unconscious literary theft has been in lines of dialogue, and, yes, I have caught myself a few times.
     
  3. Webster
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    Webster Senior Member

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    Thanks for the spell check. Now for the next several thousand posts on this forum. Let me know if you want any help.
     
  4. Rebel Yellow
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    Rebel Yellow Active Member

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    I agree with Ed (However if both are 50-50 propositions, you have at best, a 50% chance of having the impact you want it to have).

    Easter eggs are fun and can get a chuckle our of your readers, but I don't think they are important at all unless they benefit the story. I believe that they break the third wall in a sense and if used improperly, they can be detrimental to a story.
     
  5. Webster
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    Webster Senior Member

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    Perhaps 'important' is too loaded. But allusion is employed by many commercial success stories. It's not only the domain of pretentious pipe smokers. The younger members here might do well to keep that in mind. That was my rationale for opening this thread.
     
  6. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    No one is questioning your rationale for opening the thread. You wanted a discussion, so I gave my view. Do I use it? No. You like using it? Cool.
     
  7. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    It's very likely no one will ever get those hat-tippings, but it's still fun to use them. So what? I miss most of the stuff other writers have put in their stories, but it hasn't ruined my reading experience so far. I write SF with my hubbie, and there's some parody in the story as well. I did get a bit snide with "regenerative tanks" that were used in one military sci-fi series, cos I don't think it was ever explained how they regenerate new limbs and stuff, so a character in our WIP, a seasoned law enforcement officer thinks dryly that they'd sure come in handy.
     
  8. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't agree with this view. The fact you've read a book and can reference it in your own writing actually confirms the very idea somebody can decipher your little game. Especially if you make a nod to a well-known work, or any work available to your target audience: the only unfair and unreasonable waste of energy would be to make a nod to your own, unpublished text that nobody could've read at all!

    If it makes you happy, and it contributes to the story: why not, there is no harm done, and it could actually benefit the story by creating a meta-link to another author/work etc.
     
  9. Rebel Yellow
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    Rebel Yellow Active Member

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    I don't think the author needs to convince his audience that he has read other books. If people are doing it for that purpose, I feel that it's pretty much masturbatory.
     
  10. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    I absolutely agree! But the point shouldn't be to self-advertise, but to stress the idea of a literary continuum.
     
  11. Mot
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    Mot Member

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    Has anyone read Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel?

    I didn't think too highly of his first work (which he has since admitted to plagiarising), but this one was given to me as a gift and it was only about 200 pages long with huge borders and plenty of white space, so I felt obliged to read it.

    For the duration of the book I basically had my face smeared in obscure literary references. Then he decided to paste in an entire medieval text, and then write a critique of the short story (to prove that he understood it, of course) through one of the characters.

    He then wrapped up the story in the last ten pages by throwing in a hideously random (NOTE: random, not unexpected) event. By the end I wanted to weep for the poor trees that had given up their lives for this self-congratulatory s**tfest.

    Other times, I have re-read books and found subtle little nods to previous works. I always feel a little twinge of affection for the author, as it means that what I found striking about the original is something they were struck by too.
     
  12. heal41hp
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    heal41hp Contributing Member

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    I don't think I've ever come across an allusion that was detrimental to the story. Maybe I just need to get out more because it's clearly (based on Mot's description of Beatrice and Virgil) out there.

    Just the other day I read a sci-fi with a Wizard of Oz allusion and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a great juxtaposition. The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher has a lot of blatant references to Star Wars but I'm pretty sure there's a peppering of allusion that I can't remember off the top of my head. It's never damaged my experience and in fact I would have to say it's enhanced it. It tickles my brain when I catch these things because it makes me feel smart. :D

    I think I've noticed allusions in TV shows or movies before. I was tickled to death that I got the reference.
     
  13. ArnaudB
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    ArnaudB Member

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    From my experience with reading, I agree that a few references to other works can be good. But these really not to be too obvious. I've seen a few stories like that where characters spoke of an alternate scenario of a possible plot development that could happens to the story which was what happened in a book of another author. That often does feel forced because most readers have no idea what it refer too, and even those who have the reference may not recall it.
    A way I found better to pay homage is to use altered names, which proved a rather nice source of names for my characters.
    Another good example I've seen recently is in Tarnished Knights from Jack Campbell where spaceships are getting names and one get called the "Manticore" which unless I'm very wrong is a reference to David Weber's work.
    Yet, in such a case it could be wrong so in my opinion it's best to really avoid those references.
     
  14. heal41hp
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    heal41hp Contributing Member

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    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manticore

    Just thought I'd toss that out there. :)
     
  15. Webster
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    Webster Senior Member

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    Cormac McCarthy himself said that books are built upon other books. The only originality is to be found in style.
     
  16. Erasmus B. Dragon
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    Erasmus B. Dragon Member

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    In my story there is a point where the male MC is helping the female MC into a boat and she says, "Thank you, Mr. Allnut." In her best Katharine Hepburn, and he replies, "Certainly, miss," hitting Bogey's line without hesitation. She serves up the line and he returns it flawlessly, and the moment is meant to illustrate how well the two fit together, even though they don't realize it yet. It's a strong foreshadowing of the relationship for those familiar with plot of The African Queen, but even for those not familiar with the quote it makes it obvious the two have something in common. I didn't name the movie, but there aren't many people who haven't heard of Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart, so most readers will know it's from a movie, if not which one.

    It serves the plot, but it's also fun for me to know there's a nod to another work that I enjoy.

    There's another place where she's describing some horrific hallucinations she had, and she compares them to her own personal journey through the Inferno with no Virgil or Beatrice to guide her. I use this to illustrate that the character is well read, and smarter than she gives herself credit for.

    Allusions to other works can work as long as they serve the plot as well, in my opinion.
     
  17. CyberFD
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    CyberFD Member

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    My story has a blatant Perks of Being A Wallflower reference. It isn't detrimental though in my opinion and even though the character it's attached to isn't highly important at this time, he becomes a lot more necessary for me further in. I'm actually rather thankful that I decided to drop that reference in because it benefited my storyline.
     

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