1. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    literary references

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by deadrats, Jul 19, 2017.

    What do you guys think of literary references in other works of fiction? I have seen this done very well sometimes. Always subtle but smart. You can catch this sort of thing in New Yorker short stories and the likes. I'm thinking of slipping one into my novel. Have any of you tried this? Were you happy with the way it came out and do you think it added anything to the story? I think this sort of thing is an interesting play, but I also think it really has to be done well or it can look stupid or like you are trying too hard. What do you guys think?
     
  2. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin I don't feel tardy.... Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, I'd agree with this... like anything else it has to be done right. The potential for affectation is off the charts, but so long as it's relevant and contextual you should be fine. The thing I would worry about--again, like anything else--is that the reference will fly over the reader's head and leave them feeling excluded. Like they don't know the author's secret handshake or something. Or it might force an unfair comparison between the author of the story and the author of the work being referenced. I remember some crappy book referencing Hemingway and laughing out loud because the author was nowhere near worthy of conflating himself with Hemingway. That was probably not the author's intention, and my reaction was probably unfair, but if the author wants to open that door I won't hesitate to walk through it. But if the reference is clever it'll certainly add something to the right readership.

    The dud that really sticks in my mind if when Stephen King started making Harry Potter references in the latter half of The Dark Tower series. I didn't understand if he was trying to sound hip--or like a guy that hadn't run out of ideas twenty years ago--but it really turned me off and made me loathe the last few Tower books. That and he made my impressionable teenage imagination wait 11 years between books 3 and 4, by which time I had far less patience as a reader and was tired of waiting for King to get his shit together.
     
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  3. Mumble Bee

    Mumble Bee Keep writing. Contributor

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    I think I have a bit where my characters get caught in a catch 22, but they're too busy arguing over what the other 21 catches must be to do anything about it.
     
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  4. Shadowfax

    Shadowfax Contributor Contributor

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    I don't think that Catch-22 is a literary reference any more.

    The phrase has entered the language, and everybody and his dog can be heard using it; usually when it ISN'T a catch-22 situation! (Because they haven't read the book, so don't know what one is)

    p.s. I like your notion of there being a list of catches!
     
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  5. Alex R. Encomienda

    Alex R. Encomienda Contributor Contributor

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    I love using literary references because it shows what your inspirations are in a subtle way. I found moments where using literary references could sneak in because it just leads up to it.

    I have even published poems where I references things like the Scarlet Letters and The Bible. I've even used this kind of pattern where every character says a certain phrase in the story but sometimes in different contexts. In the short story I'm trying to publish, it references Alice in Wonderland throughout itself!
     
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  6. Iain Sparrow

    Iain Sparrow Banned Contributor

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    I enjoy coming across the odd literary reference, or when the writer hides an Easter Egg somewhere, and you know most readers skimmed right over it without regard to its added meaning. I've only done it twice thus far in my WIP... one for those times can be read below; the note that Valerie reads, the one signed "R.P."... it's a secret message... and also a description of a passage in Led Zeppelin's 'Stairway to Heaven'.:) Of course the R.P. initials stand for someone in the story... but for anyone of my generation, they would recognize both the reference to the song, and that R.P. is in fact 'Robert Plant'.:)


    "Come, help me choose a gown. Poor Gael must be livid wondering where you’ve gone off to. Shall we follow Hugo’s advice, or something a bit more provocative... tonight, I’m feeling perfectly betwixt and between— let us see what’s in that one there.” Valerie pointed to a pink box festooned with yellow daffodils.

    Rosemarie kelt down and untied the straps, swung open the lid, and let out a soft gasp, “It’s—beautiful.” She unfolded the dress and draped it over the couch. There was a calling card pinned to the cuff.
    Valerie opened the card and read the message therein —

    Take care and do well my friend, that we’ll meet again under the shade
    tree by the brook and listen to the songbirds singing their misgivings.
    Love always -R.P.

    — She got up from the couch and discarded her robe, “It’s time now, help me on with it.”
    Rosemarie eagerly assisted, first helping her on with a simple underdress, “Shall I ring the bell to summon Hugo?”
    “No, that won’t be necessary.”
     
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  7. Alex R. Encomienda

    Alex R. Encomienda Contributor Contributor

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    Musical references are always so intriguing to me but I'm afraid of overdoing it. I have references from songs with a twist in words. for example, The Mars Volta's song Cassandra Gemini. There's a part called "A plague upon your hissing children" but one of the chapter titles in my story is called "A plague upon your lisping children".
     
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  8. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    I hear you completely. I go back and forth between feeling stupid and feeling like a genius. And, like you say, it is somewhat of a secret handshake. If my readers didn't read that book before mine, the reference would be lost on them. But I think that's okay, too. I don't think everyone needs to pick up on it. What I am doing is something very close to using the name of a bar out of a well-known and award-winning book and calling my bar my book the same thing. I could make it so the bar was specifically named after the bar in the famous book and acknowledge that or I could just leave it as a very fitting name for this location and somewhat of an inside joke. By inside joke, I mean everyone who reads the books that win Nobel Prizes or Pulitzers will get. I'm not trying to be sneaky, just a little clever. I was trying to have a little fun with this, but I don't know if it's stupid.
     
  9. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    Can I ask how you reference them? In my post right above this one I kind of explained how I was trying to do it, but I'm curious how you or other people around here use literary references in your fiction. And what do you think it added to your pieces or were your pieces truly inspired by these works? My story is not inspired by nor in nowhere even close to the same type of story I want plug in a literary reference for. I'm a huge fan of it when New Yorker stories do it. Maybe that's because I feel smart if I know it, but I also don't feel like I'm missing anything if I don't. I think there is a balance or some sort of line to do it right. How did you know when you were doing it right?
     
  10. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin I don't feel tardy.... Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I've read a bunch of those... hit me with the reference and see if I get it (if u like).
     
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  11. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    I don't know the song, but if it works, it works. I think we just have to be careful and aware that referencing something and lifting something are two different things. Not that you're doing anything wrong or anyone is. I just wanted to state that in general. And by referencing something I really meant in subtle ways, but I think most of you get that.
     
  12. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    Can I private message you and tell you what I'm thinking. It might be stupid. I might do it anyway. I might not if it's really stupid. Do you want me to send you some actual text where I am using the reference and see if you know this one or would you like me to just explain it. I'm working on this part of my novel right now. If you want to see the text. I think there is a line or two I can send. I'm just a little stuck on how obvious to make this and if the reference should be acknowledged by any of my characters. Thanks.
     
  13. 123456789

    123456789 Contributor Contributor

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    I thought this was standard practice? The title of my WIP is from part of a poem.
     
  14. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    @Homer Potvin I sent you a PM. Let me know what you think when you get a chance. Thanks.
     
  15. Alex R. Encomienda

    Alex R. Encomienda Contributor Contributor

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    I'll use my WIP as an example. There are several literary references in it but the one that stands out the most is the reference to The Bible.

    One of the characters is a child and on the night before he is taken away by the military for being accused of witchcraft, a whirlwind occurs. The narrative then shows how those who stand still are the good ones and those who were blown away were the evil ones. In The Bible, the whirlwind is represented differently but I thought the two situations were very relatable. Also, this may not be subtle but the structure of my story is organized somewhat like The Bible.

    I didn't want to do the whole "chapter one" thing nor did I want to use creative titles like "She had eyes like deep oceans" but simply "John is given his father's will". It mirrors how things were structured in the bible.

    And then there is emphasis on the number seven throughout the story like "On the seventh day.." Or "The seven family members watched.."

    There are certain areas where I feel it matches just right and its just fun to toy with the idea.
     
  16. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    I'm not sure a bible reference and a literary reference are the same thing. Are they? Maybe.
     
  17. 123456789

    123456789 Contributor Contributor

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    Yes they are. I think the two things most referenced are the bible and Shakespeare.
     
  18. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    But I wouldn't say those are the two most popular things referenced in contemporary literature. I'm sure there is an argument against what I just said. It's just the things I read aren't referencing the Bible or Shakespeare. And I really like to read and read a lot. Anyway, I'm not sure how clever you can be with those references. They might be a little worn. I like a less obvious literary reference, though, I still want it to be pretty easy to figure out if someone knows the other book or does a quick google search.

    Special thanks to @Homer Potvin for checking out my reference. For now, I'm keeping it in my book.
     
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  19. animagus_kitty

    animagus_kitty Senior Member

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    I write both poetry and prose, and I've slipped in small phrases in both.
    A poem named Do I Dare (wherein a lower line is 'disturb the universe') is perhaps an obvious reference to J. Alfred Prufrock, but another poem is written with entirely a unique theme...but the first word of every line spells "Never...gonna...give...you...up..." There's nothing more beautiful to me than having my honor and ancestors insulted once people realize I've rick-rolled them in poem form.
    :supercheeky:
    I have another which is entitled Prophecy (don't slam me, I don't know how to properly label poem titles).
    ...
    gives guidance to the PtB, those Powers
    that make the most of me.

    'Powers that Be' didn't come from Buffy first, but that's where I heard PtB and it fit well. I've never had anybody read it and know what PtB means, though. Doesn't matter; I write for me, and then get excited if people get the joke. :-D
    ----
    On the other hand, in my novel, I mostly just reference things in (what I think is) an almost tangential fashion. (please note: I'm not as bright as I think I am, so bear with me.)
    --One of my characters makes a comment about his wife having died 147 days ago. The timing was entirely coincidental, but when I realized it, I couldn't help but reference Buffy.
    --I read a series called The Hollow Kingdom when I was in high school; I was so struck by the funeral scene that it's stuck with me for 10 years (through having forgotten the title of the work) and I'm using it in my novel. I was telling a friend about this, when she told me, "Hey, that sounds awfully familiar. Isn't that how Aragon died in LotR?" I was somehow unsurprised that I was lifting something that had been lifted in turn from Lord of the Rings.
    --This is less...transparent a reference, but I do make a comment about 'a government long ago where all races were represented in the government equally' that's almost certain to be seen as the Star Wars reference it is.

    That's all I seem to have so far from a cursory glance, but I know there's more poems with references. I'm just not going to go dig up my book right now. lol
     

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