1. Alex R. Encomienda

    Alex R. Encomienda Contributor Contributor

    Jan 12, 2016
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    can I put "codes" in my WIP novel?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Alex R. Encomienda, Mar 9, 2016.

    I've wondered, is it possible that I can somehow use codes or Easter eggs to express or reference something?

    For example, I'll use a paragraph and certain words will be in this font while the rest will be normal so when one reads the certain words, they will be one sentence.

    I've used references and quotes from the bible as well as song lyrics that signify what is going on in the moment but do you think these things will add to the story itself? Or add to a more meaningful story?

    I've been listening to a lot of prog and in dream theater's octavarium it references many things in codes or patterns.

    Will it work in a story?
  2. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

    May 1, 2008
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    El Tembloroso Caribe
    You can do pretty much anything in a novel. The question is not can you do it, it's can you do it. Can you write this little easter egg hunt in a way that is more meaningful than just oo, look how clever I am with my neat little trick. Don't read that disparagingly because I've seen many clever things done in novels that are just amazing and make me love the novel all the more*, and then there are clever little things that didn't really work so much and just stood out as the writer trying to be quirky and drawing attention away from the story.

    * My favorite go-to example for all things: Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany. There are really two novels in this novel. The one you read and the one being read by the MC. There comes a point where it's hard to tell which is which because they kind of fold in on each other. In the hands of a less masterful writer this would be a dog's breakfast, but under the hand of Delany you get a seminal classic, benchmark piece of Science Fiction.
  3. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Naysmith Contributor

    Dec 31, 2015
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    Personally I wouldn't do what you're suggesting, not like that.

    I too love to pack in additional stuff for the careful reader but I think that adding something that the vast majority of readers will miss is destined to be underwhelming at best. The problem is this - You have to write the rest of the book on the assumption that most readers won't ever even know your code is there, or if they do that they won't be bothered to figure it out. That means you can't really encode anything that actually matters into most books because most readers will never know and if that's the case then why bother?

    I think a far better approach is simply to write ambiguity and multiple perspectives into the book itself; hiding some deeper meaning literally in plain sight. It rewards real fans who read the book a lot but it also hints to a more casual reader (such as an agent or publisher who don't have the time to go looking) that there is something deeper being communicated. Just playing with the innate ambiguity of narrators and English speech gives you lots of stuff to play with without making a keen reader go beyond the book in order to find it.

    That's the key issue to me. A good secret is one that on your third read through you read a line and go 'Hey what if he's actually talking about x?' while a bad one requires you to leave the universe of the book and use external cues and tools to find it. I know some people go crazy for this metatextual stuff but within two seconds your big secret is going to be on a wiki anyway, so hiding it in a way that genuinely makes little sense in context just annoys me.

    Aside from anything else; it feels cheap to (essentially) use voice of god footnotes to make pronouncements external to the narrative. Your world needs to live in the text itself. There's loads of ways you can hide interesting details within the main text without breaking out of the page to do it so adding facile stuff outside the text (ie anything that has no other purpose than to be a code) is unsatisfying to me. Why make me flip through and find your hidden message when you can hide your message in the themes and ambiguity of the world?

    Don't get me wrong. I'm a smart ass. I love coming up with clever, darkly ironic chapter titles. I really loved writing the opening of a book from the perspective of the surveillance team watching my main characters, carefully sculpting the things that they could hear and see to lead them to a specific interpretation (in this case that the woman is being abused instead of a really happy BDSM relationship). It was very satisfying to line up disparate bits of text messages, overheard conversations, lip reading and camera angles to create this utterly false image both for the audience and the young security officer who falls in love with the girl he sees on screen and eventually will try to save her. The book is making a point about surveillance and the danger of seeing what you want to see so it's steeped in ambiguity. When the turn comes and she stabs him in the hand with a fork for being a patronizing asshole who thought she was a damsel it flips the whole text on it's head and the secrets come spilling out. I love this stuff. It's hugely enjoyable but everything you need should be found in the text and serve a storytelling purpose beyond being a code.
    Oscar Leigh likes this.
  4. Oscar Leigh

    Oscar Leigh Contributor Contributor

    Jan 21, 2016
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    Inner West Sydney, Australia
    I think if you're going to do it you have to be very careful with what you hide and how. It can't be very sneaky and also very important, it'll leave people missing stuff as @LostThePlot said.

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