So often I'll be reading something and the author will refer to something I'm not familiar with - Robertson Davies and Lawrence Purrell do this a lot, for example - and I'm trying to decide what I think about it.
On the one hand, it's a good shorthand for an author and a reader who don't want to have to go through a whole explanation of something they assume is common knowledge - if I say "He was clever, but obnoxiously so - a real Hermione type" I'm showing that the character is eager for knowledge, a bit of a know-it-all, intelligent but prone to social awkwardness - ie Hermione.
But often I see a reference to something I don't know about, and then I'm missing out on part of the character or story!
I assume it's because I'm not as well-read as the author's target demographic - but honestly, who knows all the bible stories off by heart, and ALSO knows the life stories of Greek philosphers, AND Spanish verb-conjugation?
It's also worth mentioning that some of my favorite authors (David Foster Wallace, Joseph Heller, Margaret Atwood) don't do this at all.
Also worth mentioning that it's a great way to learn about cool stuff.
Post by A Mask Among Many on Apr 25, 2016 15:01:41 GMT -6
I think we all enjoy the references when we can understand them, but when we don't get them they're annoying at best, and at worst, they alienate you from the character or situation.
Personally, I would rather make references that are slightly veiled so that it gives a whole new meaning to the character or situation for those who understand the reference yet enhances the story for others in a different way. Kind of like describing people sitting around you in a cafe by the items they brought with them: "The corner booth dwarfed a petite girl with mousey brown hair. Books, including a Rowling, a Tolkien, and some Alighieri person were piled around her in a haphazard yet somehow organized fashion. Two booths to the right was a slightly smaller table dominated by a massive desktop computer and an even more massive individual wearing a shirt that simply said 'Obey.'"
See how I described the people and even gave them some personality just by describing them and their surroundings? And even if a reader didn't know who Dante, Rowling, or Tolkein were, they understood the bookish girl. The individual in the other booth has a very overpowering personality even if you don't understand where his shirt came from.
-Those who have masks should take them off. Those without should never make them. For those who put them on rarely take them off.
References pretty much always annoy me. There's the occasional reference that I both recognize and appreciate, but there are some I recognize that are just as irritating as the ones I don't know anything about. Can't you get your point across without using phrasing that about half your readers won't get? And the ones I don't get, of course, are frustrating because you either feel like you're missing something, or you have to stop reading to go look it up, and it might be lame anyway. It is a good way to learn about stuff, if that stuff is interesting and worth pausing your reading to look up, but most of the time I don't bother. (This was a problem in college, when we'd start discussing the stories we read and half the class is like, "Oh, yes, this reference says such and such about the character" and the other half was like "I have no idea what you people are talking about." Heh.)
Mask, your two examples did nothing for me. No offense. The one with the books is a bit cumbersome, partly because both Rowling and Tolkien are more likely to have their books named by title than author (definitely more people recognize Harry Potter than J.K. Rowling, or Lord of the Rings than Tolkien, though the numbers are probably quite close) - and partly because you say a lot about her personality and reading choices with those particular books, whether you mean to or not. Either the reader gets what you're saying about her or they don't. Bookish is a start, but only the very shallowest level of what you're saying there.
The computer and shirt person does come across as overpowering (though I'd probably say overbearing or just obnoxious) but I still don't know if that shirt is a reference to something specific and if I should bother looking it up. The computer could be either really not tech-savvy and doesn't yet realize that laptops exist, or the type to be extremely condescending because a desktop is such a better value/higher quality/whatever.
... I don't think I realized how much I cared about this topic until just now. Oops?
Edit: I should also say that I'm much more likely to enjoy very, very subtle references. My friend is writing a book with the main character whose name is a reference to Dr. Faustus, which I love because it's a reference (among other things) without being annoying or exclusionary. I have a character in my novel named Pallas, for Athena, but again - absolutely no need to get the reference to understand her personality. So I guess references that may add value without subtracting value if they're not understood are okay.
Last Edit: May 2, 2016 23:12:27 GMT -6 by sapphire
"a massive desktop computer and an even more massive individual wearing a shirt that simply said 'Obey.'"
Did you know the popular clothing brand OBEY (as in...) started something like 20 years ago when the creator started stenciling a stylized image of Andre the Giant around his city? So when you described a giant wearing a shirt that says 'Obey', that's of course what I thought you were referencing.
So now I as a potential reader now have this whole imagined backstory and ascribed meaning for this character that turns out to be a total coincidence!
Of course I only know that 'reference' because my friends are into street art, but you can imagine what would happen if I (somehow) didn't know about Harry Potter and wrote "Hermione had buck teeth and frizzy hair".
I guess we have a kind of duty as authors to be up on popular and classic literature so we don't accidentally reference something.
I think it depends on why the author is making these references. If it is to just show off that they know a bunch of stuff, then eh. If it is to connect with the greater world of literature/culture and it makes sense, then I love it. Right now I’m reading Against Nature and there are so many references, it’s insane. I’ve picked up on a handful, but I’m okay with not being familiar with everything because it gives me a wealth of people and works to look into, and then I can re-read the book later and have a new appreciation for it.
I think references were more popular when there were less works out there. Part of this may because new writers felt the need to establish themselves by appealing to existing stories, so an appeal to authority to give themselves credibility. Another part may be connected to our education. People used to learn multiple languages Latin, Greek, French, and do translations of writings. I think knowing more than one language is amazing because it’s a whole other field of literature that is then open to you to read first hand, and so they would more information to pull from to make references. (I’m sorry this is broad and I don’t have any dates. I should look more into this.)
We probably have a bunch of references to our culture in our writing but take it for granted because it’s what we live in. In 200 years they’ll need footnotes for what we’re writing now.
Oh my gosh, Sapphire, so true about college. It’s even worse when the professor makes the reference and the whole class has blank faces and then the prof is like maybe it’s time to update my references…
So that’s what the “Obey” shirts mean. Thank you for enlightening me, Zoom.
sapphire: Zoom! Welcome back. Sounds like things are going well! What's your job?
Jan 7, 2017 16:43:00 GMT -6
Zoom: (Sorry I haven't been around btw, got a serious boyfriend and a full-time job, almost literally no time)
Jan 1, 2017 5:31:12 GMT -6
Zoom: Am here! So great to hear the news Saph!!
Jan 1, 2017 5:28:21 GMT -6
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