Six Questions


School Visits



Shared Fictional Experiences

I was at a Christmas show the other day, in a crowd of complete strangers, all singing the same songs.

Whoopi Goldberg, who was starring in the show, commented afterward just  how much the music meant to her, and it hit me that the songs had connected us in a way that seemed to transcend everything else. Despite being complete strangers, we all shared the experience of singing and hearing these songs. The concert had used this shared experience to give us an extraordinarily rich and satisfying event.

As I thought about it on the drive home, I started thinking about fictional experiences that could connect people. Here are some quotes that might resonate with you…

  • a maze of twisty little passages, all alike
  • I’m givin’  ‘er all she’s got,  cap’n.
  • Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
  • Quoth the Raven, “never more.”
  • Yes, my precious.
  • He chose poorly.
  • I’m not dead yet!
  • With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet…
  • Curse you, Perry the platypus!

If you’re like me, quotes like these conjure up not just an image or a memory, but an emotion. I’m guessing that you and I don’t share all of these, but I’d be willing to bet that those we do share bring the same emotion for each of us.

As a writer, this idea of shared fictional experiences seems like a powerfully tempting tool, but how can we use it? I certainly don’t have the guts to put a lightning bolt on a character’s forehead, for example, or throw in a golden ring that turns people invisible. Even if I did, I doubt they’d improve the story – and what about the people who haven’t shared the experience?

No, I think the trick is to reference the experiences in a way that resonates with people who recognize them, but doesn’t turn off people who don’t.  What about a character who quotes a famous poet? I’ve seen that a few times, and it worked extremely well.

It’d be fun to write someone who quotes television shows, but that would seriously limit the lifetime of the book. Movies might work, but again, it seems like it would be limiting.

I include a couple of references to other books in Dragon Run, but I hadn’t been thinking in terms of the experiences the reader and I shared. Instead, I just thought it would be fun.

What do you think? Have you read any books where you found a reference to another book?

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Posted December 9, 2012 in Writing