Easter Eggs

I love inside jokes. The little things that mean so much to just a handful of people, and nothing at all to others. Small mentions or glances that can tell a whole story. It makes you feel in on something, makes you feel part of it.

I suppose that’s why I love when authors make references to previous works in their novels. Paige Toon is fantastic at it. In each of her books, she’ll have one of her previous characters show up. It’s never an important role, and it doesn’t mean anything if you haven’t read her other books, but for those who know, it’s phenomenal. Sometimes it’s just a mention (for instance, in one book, the main character picks up a poster of a rock star. Simple enough, right? But if you know, the rock star was the main character from an earlier novel.) and sometimes they’ll actually show up and answer a question lingering from a previous book (one book ends with the question of who’s the father. The question is actually answered one book later when the mom and child walk down the street. Merely pass by, but there’s one sentence that details the child’s eye color and that makes all the difference.).

(That was the longest, most run-on sentence in the history of sentences, wasn’t it?)

Sarah Dessen does it really well, too. Instead of just mentioning a character, though, she creates a whole world. The same shops and restaurants are visited. Characters pass through, unremarkable unless you know. I love it so much. Vikas Swarup did it too, bringing his two main characters of Q&A (the book Slumdog Millionaire was based on) into his second novel, Six Suspects.

I guess, much like inside jokes, I enjoy these Easter eggs because they make me feel in with the book. Like I’m sharing a joke with the author and becoming more connected to their world. Perhaps i’m the only one who feels that way, but every time I see another reference, it’s like a wink in my directions, a thank you for sticking around.

So i’ve decided to do that, too. In a very minor way I’m making a small mention of a main character from TNWSY in Book2. If you get it, awesome. If not, it doesn’t matter. But man, writing that scene? It was so much fun. It was like bringing my character into a new world, and seeing how he’d do. And I loved it. And I hope others do, too.

As a reader, do you like when authors do it? What are some other examples? (And as a writer, have you ever thought of doing it?)

Listening to Characters

I’ve read so many articles where writers described how their characters talked to them. How the characters led the story and made decisions of their own. And I thought it was so cool. I wanted that to happen. I wanted my characters to come alive and be something more than 2D ideas. But every time I wrote, it never happened. I realized later it was because I never got to know them enough to allow them to come alive.

As I wrote TNWSY, I had a general idea of how the book would start and end. I had a beginning fleshed out and finish line all of the characters were running towards. But as for the middle, there was just a bare skeleton guiding me. Sure, I had ideas of what would happen to get them from point a to point b, but never real concrete plans. I was scared, of course, that I wouldn’t figure it all out.

But as I approached an undecided part, I found scenes coming to me. Not always easily, but they came quickly and excitingly. My characters decided they didn’t want to stay at a party, instead they wanted to go out. They told me where they should go, they led the story. And it was absolutely amazing. Even my ending, the one I previously plotted, was changed. They thought it was too cheesy, of course.

After I finished, I went back and re-read it. Starting with the first chapter, I noticed how out of character some quotes were, how unauthentic. That’s how I realized my characters had voices. As soon as I realized that, I knew I was on the right track.

That’s not to say my story is perfect or even complete – even right now I’m finding new things to change and add. I’m just saying that, despite it never happening before, it is possible for characters to come alive. It’s amazing and crazy and, well, magical. They create stories of their own, and, as a writer, it’s our job to just catch up.