1. Edward
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    Edward Active Member

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    Veiled References, and Hidden Jokes; or Bad Puns, Writing with Trivia

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Edward, Nov 15, 2009.

    Has anyone ever wanted to add in references to outside sources in their work? Modern stories are often rife with pop culture, but what about a fantasy novel, or science fiction? Have you ever just wanted to have a dialogue be taken from the lines of a song, or add in the kinds of things you'd find on a trivia page?

    A mechanic named Sid, a heavyset man in blue overalls and a red shirt, guys named Wedge?

    What silly things have you used in your writing that only a certain kind of person will get?
     
  2. DragonGrim
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    DragonGrim Contributing Member

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    I write fantasy and never use modern pop culture. In fact, I try to dull my modern tone, but not too much because I hate when someone tries to sound archaic. I do try to use things familiar to mythology, however.
     
  3. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    I don't know about silly things...I guess there are a few things I've lovingly appropriated from other writers (the use of a young girl in a white dress as a motif, for instance, which I picked up from the fiction of Katherine Mansfield)...but in general if I do do it, it's for personal reasons rather than as something for readers, though if they pick up on it, great. I'm big on the idea of exploring intertextuality in fiction, rather than trying to deny it, which is why modern copyright laws irk me...I understand that the artists need to be able to assert their rights as owners of a work and have the right to stop other people profiting from their work, but the laws basically forbid any creative interaction with any work that is not in the official public domain, which is senseless and goes against the very nature of art.
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Most pop culture references are fleeting. If you're writing them into a monologue for a variety show, that's perfect. But if you're writing for a durable piece of writing like most novels, those references will at best fade and simply attract no notice, or at worst will confuse readers and leave them wondering what they are missing.

    You can treat them as Easter eggs for savvy readers, but don't let them take on any important meaning. No open chortling over the reference, unless you explain it.

    You never want to make your readers feel you are laughing at their ignorance. They will repay you by turning their back on you.
     
  5. bluebell80
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    bluebell80 Contributing Member

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    I'll have to differ on Cogs views of including a bit of pop culture into your work. Even if you are planning on writing a novel that is going to be considered a great work of classic literature, little cultural things can be present. The reason I think this, is that, especially in real life earth settings, it can show the time period in which is it being written about.

    I'm working on a couple things right now, both set in our current time. Being online, emails, video sharing, tweeting, driving while texting, being glued to a blackberry while walking and then tripping off the curb into traffic, those technological things are very common place right now, in our current time. As such, I would include some common place things. Even references to recent deaths, like Micheal Jackson, can put the reader into the mind set of a specific time period. It'd be like writing a novel set in the year that JFK died. It can capture an attitude, an emotion, and the atmosphere of the time.

    Including songs can be a reference in character development. Maybe a character listens only to classic Rock, and another listens to today's metal, these little tid bits of character definition about their attitudes and likes, and may even pose a little conflict between the two characters as they argue the difference in greatness of the drummer from say Rush and the drummer from Slipknot.

    I know I like a little injected humor of a little trivia between characters, like at a very tense moment (but not one that is say climatic) one character gives another character a little trivia question, the other character laughs, I laugh at the situation.

    Even writing about worlds outside of our own could result in little quips about their cultural stuff. Maybe it's just a little bit that would make the reader smile at the humor of it. Maybe it's a defining point of a character in their beliefs or attitudes or behavior.

    I think in some stories there is a time and place for current cultural references, they can be humorous, or just a passing reference, but there is a place for them in some stories.
     
  6. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I don't know about pop culture references... Pop culture is by definition so ephemeral that within just a few years time, the ref would be obscure and thus have no impact or importance except perhaps to a quirky few.

    Now I have seen real life events rewritten or included in the plot of a story. In one of Alan Dean Foster's Flinx novels, he parallels the attempt to straighten and guide the Kissimmee River and the ecological problems this caused to the Southern Florida wetlands. In his story he renames the river the Kiss Me River. If you were from Florida, the story would have been obvious to you.
     
  7. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    go ahead and have fun, if you want, but be aware that you need the copyright owner's permission to use song lyrics... and that usually costs a bundle...
     
  8. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    Contemporary readers may enjoy the references, and by so doing, enjoy your book a bit more, but the key to long term success will be writing that does not depend on the reader's knowledge of such references in order for the story to remain compelling. And, as mammamaia mentioned, copyrighted material carries responsibility to obtain proper permission.

    Along the line of this thread, I spent many of my formative years in Massachusetts. At age 18, I transferred to a college in California for my Sophomore year. The first time I went to dinner with my new western friends, they all laughed at me for ordering a "tonic". They had never heard this New England term for "soda". So, some "pop" terms (pun intended), are only regional, much less fleeting in existence.
     
  9. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Your pop pun fizzled. ;)

    I'd love to have seen the look you got when you asked for a steak grinder. :)
     
  10. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    I enjoy sticking stuff into the background that most people will never notice. It's mostly for my own enjoyment, and a nod towards those who'll pick up on it. These things have no bearing on the actual story though.
     
  11. aniolel
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    aniolel Member

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    In accordance what some of your mentioned before, it does add a layer to the story. There is a catch to this 22, don't over do it. For instance, make it subtle and not the main point of the novel. Like Cog said, make them hidden and hard to find, but by all means go ahead and use them. Furthermore, I also despise the copyright laws. The hinder any progress that art has. I say from this a non-writing stand point. From a musical stance, I think that it has it place there, and so be explicitly for that area. It sounds like a contradicting myself...I assure that I am not. Let the copyright protect composers from having their work taken from them. However, allow writers allow to quote things that are still copyrighted. For their are paying tribute to those before them. Like how Schubert took the them from Beethoven's fifth symphony; he tipped his hat to Beethoven, and I bet he was honored by it. So, let art interact act with art.
     
  12. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Despise them all you want, but they exist for the protection of creative artists, whether they be writers, sculptors, musicians, photographers, painters, etc.

    So yes, I do think you are contradicting yourself, and rationalizing.
     
  13. aniolel
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    aniolel Member

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    I do that at the times. My friends laugh at it, for it is comical to see someone debate with them selves. Yes, they are there for a reason--preventing the stealth of works that others have done. However, it allows prevents others from borrowing works. Acknowledging that anything that is not your own seems vice enough, however, that does not mean that you are in the clear. For those who have a cupidity for money,and want it from you will sue the hell out of you. Now here is where i personally have a problem, as a christian I don't believing that we should sue our neighbors. Especially, if we acknowledge the outside sources. If someone borrow parts of my lyrics that I wrote and used them in their, I would be fine with as long as they acknowledge that it was not their own.
     
  14. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Borrowing anything without the owner's knowledge and express permission is stealing.

    The copyright laws are set in place to prevent the theft of certain types of intellectual property, for which the theft can take place without physically removing that property from the owner's possession.
     
  15. Unit7
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    Unit7 Contributing Member Contributor

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    In my NaNoNovel I have placed a bunch of different Easter Eggs in mine. Mostly for my entertainment. They hold no real value to the story, if people can pick up on them then I hope they get a little kick out of them. If they don't then they will have forgotten about it soon enough.
     
  16. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    My book has pop culture references. One example: A character in my book is nicknamed "Pugsley," like from the Addam's Family. (It does end up having value in my story, but I can't say more without a spoiler for my own book that I'm not willing to divulge.)

    Just don't violate copyright, and, as mamma pointed out, I'd stay away from lyrics unless you get permission. Don't use other people's words, and don't use other people's characters. Names and ideas, on the other hand, are not copyright protected.

    The only way to use anything written by another, other than something called "fair use" (which involves literary criticism, etc.) is by getting written permission from the author--and even fair use can be a fine line that can land you in court.

    Read a book to help you understand copyright... and stay so far away from the line as to make what you write, unquestionably, safe from questions of copyright. Check the copyright.gov website for more information on copyright laws.

    Oh, and for the poster who said this... When you're around other writers, I'd recommend against saying things like, "I despise copyright laws," unless you're trying to say you wish they were stricter and provided more protection. It's a little bit like standing in the ASPCA saying, "I hate all the laws that protect animals." Or telling a musical group, "I hate those record pirating laws, why can't I just download all your music for free?" Most writers have this funny thing about, not wanting their work to get stolen.

    Names are safe to use--but you also have to worry about defamation or slander if you say something bad about a person or product, so avoid that also.

    I myself wrangled with copyright, feeling my creativity was stifled--I can't have a character singing a popular lyric, for example--but really, there's so much more you can do in writing than culture references, and the price of not having copyright laws is a heck of a lot more than the price of having them.

    I was also downright flustered because I didn't understand copyright law, I didn't know what I can and can't do. You can learn that by simply reading a book on copyright law, and doing your best to err on the side of caution.

    Charlie

    PS. Regarding the "long term success" thing... there is some truth to that... however, in my opinion, very few writings are eternally successful. Off the top of my head, the Bible, Shakespeare, and some classics like Don Quixote, the works of Homer, etc., are still read thousands of years later. I can't imagine that, 2,000 years from now, people will be reading much from today's bestseller list the way people today read the Bible or Shakespeare. And, even when we do read those ancient works, it's hard to understand them because they contain references that were contemporary to when they were written.

    I sometimes have read specific books from 100 years ago or longer because I was researching or seeking certain knowledge, or sometimes (Shakespeare, Dickens) for pleasure--but it can be painful, because they spoke differently, a different language, and the older, the more difficult.

    (Did you know that "it was not wonderful" in a 200 year old book meant "it was no wonder" or "it was not surprising." "Wonderful," back then, apparently didn't mean "terrific," it meant "amazing" or "surprising." I found that out just by reading old books.)

    Why do you think it takes a theologian to figure the Bible out and Greek and Hebrew scholars to translate it into something readable? Mainly, it's because we have no clue what they're saying half the time, because they're talking from a 2,000 year old culture! And our understanding of what it says is forever changing, because we see it from our culture's point of view, and people 100 years ago and 500 years ago each saw it from that culture's point of view. I once had a Jewish scholar explain to me how one particular passage in the Old Testament was actually a joke, that there was a pun, a play on words that would cause people to laugh out loud when they read it some 3,000 years ago, but I can tell you, nobody reading it today in our language gets the joke.

    It's impossible to avoid your book getting dated... and not just with pop culture references. There are people alive today who would get confused when a story says something like, "the record started skipping, so she moved the needle to its rest," or "she picked up the phone and started dialing, inserted her finger in each number and spinning quickly." How about, "she pulled up her car and cranked down the window, turning the lever quickly." Or, "he adjusted the television's rabbit ears."

    Sometimes, when I'm reading a '70s novel, I'm thinking, a young person would never understand this novel. They'd say, 'What are these detectives, stupid? There's blood all over the crime scene, and they're looking for fingerprints? Just get CSI in there to check the DNA, no problem!"

    And computer references from late '70s and early '80s books are just hilarious--especially when they go out of their way to explain what e-mail is to an audience that really doesn't know, and the language they use is so dated it's not accurate anyway.

    I also find it funny (and I don't get it) when someone on the Honeymooners says his phone number is Benson Hurst 732, or whatever.

    Charlie
     
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  17. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    Word. I recently bought 'Paradise Lost' by Milton and the book is three to four times longer than the actual poem. This extra space is crammed full of explanations to the text and all the things that would only make sense were you a medieval theologist. Still, Paradise Lost is considered a timeless classic.
     
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  18. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    That means you agree with me, right?

    I wasn't sure, being old. ;)

    (Ah, language... so fluid, so changing!)
     
  19. bluebell80
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    bluebell80 Contributing Member

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    I can't believe you said this. Copyright laws don't hinder anything, as long as you're not looking to steal other people's work!

    For the most part, quotes aren't really needed. Making a reference to someone else's work, in a way that doesn't directly quote the work itself is not covered under copyright protection. So I could have characters make reference to characters, a title, or a plot-line from another work of fiction without permission. Now if I want to have my characters use direct quotes from the material, I may or may not need permission, depending on how it is used, however it is always best to ask permission before or while seeking publication.

    As for music, titles can be used freely. So I could reference a song title without worry of copyright infringement, but using lyrics would need permission, unless only using a short phrase (at least that is how I read it.)

    I don't see how that steps on the toes of the writer. So what, we have to ask permission. If I go to my neighbor's house looking to borrow their rake I would ask permission before just taking it!

    I just finished reading the published version of John Dies At The End. The author had to change a scene in the book where John breaks into song. Before, on the free online production of this book, the author had used the song "Sweet Child O' Mine" with lyrics. He had to change the song to one that John and his band wrote "Camel Holocaust" because the copyright permissions for "Sweet Child" were too expensive to publish in the printed book.

    So it is possible to get by without using something after you have written it. In Time Traveler's Wife, the author uses many lyrics from punk rock bands and paid for the permission or obtained permission from said bands.

    Some authors or musicians will give permission for free. Some might charge a small amount to say unknown first time authors, some may charge outrages prices to everyone. The point of charging for the use is to show that you are still protecting your copyright and that it just can't be used freely.

    If anyone is still confused on this issue I found a good site here that pretty much covers all of this.
     
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  20. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    true, but not completely true in re freedom of usage, since some names [like 'batman'] are trademark protected and thus still must have permission to be used in non-'fair use'-exempted works...
     
  21. bluebell80
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    bluebell80 Contributing Member

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    Yes, that is true. Things that are Trademarked, not copyrighted have to still have permission and usually come with a fee. I should have mentioned that, as I was just researching trademarks for an ad campaign I'm doing for my parents retail store. Thinking about trademarking our slogan before someone else does. :)
     
  22. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Yup, I do. Here is an example

     
  23. tonten
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    tonten Senior Member

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    anyone know if copyright applies to video games?

    As in taking a popular quote from a video game and sticking it into my book. Would it fall under such famous pop culture quotes like, "There is no spoon," (matrix), and etc under fair use?
     
  24. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    Trademark doesn't make the actual word used by the company their property. Only the brand identity. If you wrote a book and used the Batman brand logo for the title, it would be trademark infringement, but you could freely have a character in your book named Batman, as long as it's clear that it's not the same product.
     
  25. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Of course copyright applies to video games.

    Fair use would primarily apply to reviews or essays. It would not apply to inclusion in a piece of fiction.
     

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