Saturday, August 24, 2013

Popular Reference

"Flight-or-fight instincts welled up. She jerked her arm loose, retreating to the far corner near the only window. In the dull glow from the fire in the iron stove, his towering form wavered and stretched. His costume was straight out of the Matrix, right down to the long leather coat and black boots. An enormous sword, sheathed in black leather, rested on the rough table near the door." © Faery Sword by Anny Cook 2013

When I wrote the paragraph above, I made a classic mistake with my reference to the Matrix. Such references are known as pop culture references. Generally, they are short-lived. Every generation has a set of references familiar only to them. 

"Sock it to me!"

"Kilroy was here!"

"The truth is out there..."

Using a popular reference can be tricky. In this day of global availability of reading material, such a reference might be puzzling--or outright offensive--to folks in other cultures. 

In the example cited above, I'll keep it, only because it's from my heroine's viewpoint. In the following two or three paragraphs I'll expand the image in such a way the reader will have a clear picture of the stranger. 

But! Clarification can sometimes lead to unnecessary redundancy. How important is the reference to the story? For the average reader, describing a bag as a Coach bag is so much noise. What color is it? Leather? Size? Shape? If the point is to convey it's cost, say an expensive bag, or perhaps indicate it's out of the reach of the heroine's budget. 

Not every woman lusts after stiletto heels. Some prefer hiking boots or Doc Martens. Choose your popular references wisely.


  1. I sooooo don't get how some women wear stilettos all the time. I tried them once and decided I'd wear them into the club/restaurant, and then take them off for the duration. Give me no more than a 1 inch heel!

  2. Yep, popular references are tricky because not everyone follows the norm/trend. With you? I was just wondering when the story was set due to your love of blue people and everything not having to be the norm.

  3. I've learned it's not necessary to get into specifics - used to do it way more than I do it now. Readers seem to prefer a general impression rather than be limited by what I consider an author's footnote - or our footnotes.