Monday, March 12, 2012

The Delights - and Dangers - of "In Jokes"

"Protect the land and despoil the sea? It seems an odd bunch of rules to me."

This is a line from the story I'm currently writing - "The Giant of Tidesmouth." Obviously, there is more to it, and I expect many of my readers will get it and enjoy the reference.

But if you don't, I'm not telling you what it is. Neener neener.

Of course, if I hadn't told you there was something more to get, then those of you who saw nothing beyond the line of dialogue would not have known you were missing anything. Which, generally speaking, is good. In jokes are great for the people who share in them, but they make others feel excluded and that won't make readers feel welcome.

Thus, I try to make them subtly. I love making references, and homages, and little tributes to the artists and the people and the things that I love. I do it all the time. I even have some 'big' ones planned. Snippets of a song lyrics or a particularly poignant turn of phrase that I intend to - ahem - "borrow" into my books at some point. I do not intend to make them stick out. They will blend and only the people who instantly recognize the borrowed bit will know what I was doing - ideally,  the tribute will blend so completely that even those people wonder if it was intentional.

After all, too much reference becomes gratuitous and gets in the way of the story - even self-reference, which has the added sin of being masturbatory. I'm talking story-telling sin, not religious, folks. As I hint at in the post where I introduced The Wandering Tale, I want people to be able to read these stories, starting anywhere in the series, and never have the feeling they were missing anything. Characters and themes and events might reappear, but in a quiet way. Too much self-reference would ruin the stand-alone nature of each story. Readers would know that there was something there weren't getting, and feel like I was pushing them to read the other parts. I don't want that - I want them to read cuz the writing is just so damned good.

This may be one of the hardest parts of writing this series. Despite being in my anti-epic kick for a little while, I normally like an expansive narrative, and it is in my nature to write that way. Perhaps it will be good practice to ensure that each entry into The Wandering Tale can stand proudly alone.

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