1. AxleMAshcraft
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    AxleMAshcraft Member

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    Question Mark (not literally)

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by AxleMAshcraft, Jan 22, 2011.

    Do you guys use allusions in your writing? I've tried but sometimes I'm scared that if I inject them in in a unannounced way then no one will understand them.

    Example: The walls were cluttered like Nash's spiderweb, daunting me and making my eyes tick and jump across them, looking for the answers that weren't there. The result for an equation that daunted even the most Beautiful of Minds.

    Does anyone understand that?

    Is that a good way to broach an allusion?

    (Bonus points if you can say what the allusion is)
     
  2. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't deliberatly allude to other works it does however happen more subtly - any other child of the 80s may well know why my MC turns into a falcon and recognise the phrase give me light beyond light.

    I did however take out the care bear stare I used to exorcise the evil king, but left in winking out which alludes to another similar genre of toy/cartoon.

    My RAT fighters live in sewers, their king is called Michaelangelo, and they like Pizza :)

    Unless of course you are alluding to metaphors and parables ?

    Yours for the film was a tad more obvious than I go for.
     
  3. JT Tiger
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    JT Tiger Member

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    I think the problem is that if the reader doesn't know the reference, it makes no sense. Nash's web? Who is Nash? WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT???

    It can potentially exclude huge swathes of people, so it's very dangerous ground to be venture into. If you want to allude to things, I think it's probably best to make it either...

    a) Truly common knowledge. A nod to a famous folk story like Humpty Dumpty, for example. Something that 99% of the population will get.

    b) So that the allusion makes sense to all without knowledge of the source, and doesn't read in an off-kilter way, but gives an extra kick of satisfaction to the more knowledgable reader.

    For example, in the film Moon (mixing mediums, ick) , there are number of clever "easter eggs" that you wouldn't spot unless you spoke/read Korean. Now, not having this knowledge doesn't impact in any way on your enjoyment of the film, but it's a wonderful bonus for anyone familiar with the language.

    Do you see what I mean?
     
  4. Virginia Slim
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    Virginia Slim New Member

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    I don't wish to discourage you but I too am left baffled by Nash's webb and it can 'clutter' a wall?!?
    Intentional obscurity rarely works as a strategy. For instance, such obscurity was not part of the strategy of Dickens or Orwell or (Raymond) Chandler. If you have something perceptive, abstruse and deep to say, say it as clearly as possible. Now that is clever.
     
  5. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    all of that is gobbledygook to me... never heard of 'nash's web' and can't see how eyes can 'tick'... second sentence's 'for an equation' makes no sense at all and blatant reference to 'a beatiful mind' while changing the wording and still capitalizing it as a title is nonsensical, imo...
     
  6. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, we get it.

    But it seems a bit ham-handed if you ask me. I read plenty of books that include such things. Sometimes I get them, sometimes I don't. It generally doesn't hurt the story if I don't get them, and it's an added bonus of feeling a meeting of the minds if I do get them. But I think you're better off doing this in a more subtle manner.
     
  7. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    "A Beautiful Mind", Nash equilibrium

    I agree that allusions can be an added bonus, but the story can't rely on them, and you need to make sure the text still makes sense for all those who don't get them.

    Capitalising certain words is not a good way to create allusions. A good allusion needs to hide in the background. That means a lot of people probably won't get it, but it's better than having it disrupt the story. Allusions are just an added bonus, after all.

    I wouldn't worry too much about inserting allusions in your story. If they come naturally and don't have a negative impact on the story, go for it, but direct the bulk of your writing effort to the fundamentals: spelling and grammar, plot, storyline, dialogue, description and characterisation.

    One of my stories is called The death of The Author. It's an allusion to a paper by a French literary critic who claimed that the author's intention is irrelevant when interpreting a text; only the text itself can be the basis for an interpretation (I'm probably over-simplifying, but that's the gist of it). My story is about a real author who actually dies, and the title is just a playful wink to those who get the reference.

    In my current project, I'm trying to insert characters from the song Particle Man by the band They Might Be Giants. The characters' names will be wordplays on the names of the band members, and if I can get it to work well, part of their backstory will be that they're failed musicians from the band They Might Be Geeks who turned into scientists. But story always comes first.
     
  8. JT Tiger
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    JT Tiger Member

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    Just to clarify, I knew what the allusion was to.

    :)

    As people have said, subtlety is key.
     
  9. AxleMAshcraft
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    AxleMAshcraft Member

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    I find it ironic that you all are saying that I need to worry about subtly while I have read many published, popular novels where they pretty much come right out and say "Hey readers, look over here, I'm going to make an allusion"...
    and just FYI my little two sentence example is never actually going to be used for anything, I wrote it so you guys would have something to critic, which you did, very blatantly.
    If I knew I was going to get defensive I shouldn't have posted this thread but thanks for slandering my work. Sorry if that sounds bitter but....
    Thanks for those who were constructive. And no thanks to the critics.
     
  10. FrankABlissett
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    FrankABlissett Active Member

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    Allusions are fine, but you need to keep the uninformed reader in mind. They need to be used such that even readers who are ignorant of your reference (or even the fact that there was an allusion made) can still understand the prose. For those who do understand, it adds depth, certainly, but that's no reason to make it unintelligible to others.

    Of course, in poetry there is more leeway - I assume you were talking about prose though.

    -Frank
     
  11. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, some of us may not like those novels either. There are a lot of people here who don't like many popular novels, or many "literary" novels.
     
  12. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Allusions get better the more well-known they are in a given culture. Allusions to the film "A Beautiful Mind" don't really qualify, because too many readers won't be familiar with it. Biblical allusions are generally good, because in Western culture, even atheists have enough familiarity with the Bible to understand them. Shakespeare is good, too, as are Mother Goose, Grimm's Fairy Tales, and a few other things.

    I would tend to avoid more modern allusions, simply because they haven't had time to become part of our cultural bedrock. We can't assume that our readers know what we're referring to.
     
  13. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    I'm reading Michael Cunningham's new book at the moment, and he does a lot of literary name-dropping. There's one passage near the start where he's describing a character, then in parentheses adds "(stately, plump Buck Mulligan?)" for no apparent reason. It was pretty jarring, and I'm not sure what to make of it. Other critics have called him out on the overtness of his allusions too, because a lot of the time, they simply detract from his own authorial voice.

    In terms of your writing, an allusion to a film that's not even ten years old isn't going to impress anyone, or add anything to your text. Intertextuality is a tricky game to play, because as soon as you introduce another text into your own, the reader will start comparing the two (which is presumably what you want to happen, otherwise why do it?), and it can change how they come to see your work. If the allusion makes sense, and is to a text that fits well with your own, then it can work really well. If it's too jarring, or unflattering, or unnecessary, it can be a disaster.
     
  14. spklvr
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    spklvr Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't think anyone was slandering your work here. As for allusions, I have read popular novels that uses several in very bad ways. Most of them are distracting and confusing. Occasionally, it makes the author sound a little arrogant and like they want to show off that "hey, I've read a book too!", or something similar :p
     
  15. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm re-reading Neil Gaiman's American Gods at the moment, and it might be worth you looking at how he manages allusion in that. I'm not bad on mythology, but I certainly can't identify all the gods and demigods he references in that book. But it doesn't matter, because of the skilful way he works them all into the story.
     

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