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Allusions in stories


W_L

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I've realized in reading recently that a lot of stories no longer use allusions, favoring the descriptive.

 

Allusions are a subtle nod to ideas, emotions, and people, but I wonder if this kind of author's signature is too subtle for modern readers to get into?

 

When done well it marks an author's style and his/her characters, like Orwell evoked tyranny using concepts like "Newspeak" and "Big Brother", Dickens evoke empathy with "Tiny Tim" and callousness by reciting Malthus' line "Decrease the surplus population", and Mark Twain's huckleberry Finn evoked a lot of concepts (Please don't discuss in here), when he chose "Alright then, I'll go to Hell"

 

Do you guys like allusions? or, Find it too subtle for understanding?

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Okay, so I had to look it up to be sure what you were referring to, but yes, I use allusions, although I never actually considered it before. If I use them it's because they pop out of my head. I wonder if perhaps a reference might be too subtle, but then that hardly matters, because either the reader gets the reference, or they don't. If they get it, that's wonderful, because it adds a bit of colour and depth. I have read stories with allusions and when I find a reference I don't understand, I Google it, it adds to the story, it adds to my knowledge, and sometimes I think, "oh yes, that's clever." But I wouldn't over do the use of allusions or you might get labelled "pretentious!" There must always be balance, but allusions are good.

 

Well I hope I understood this correctly and I am not being stupid and making a fool of myself. My understanding of an allusion would be something like this example from my novel: 

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Max’s attention was drawn to the brightly coloured book next to the incense on the shelf. He read the spine, ‘The Psychedelic Experience, Timothy Leary.’ He remembered that cover from somewhere. Taking the change Gavin handed, he replied, “We'll be careful.” He knew that wasn’t true.

I'm telling the reader something about the character of Max by alluding to the book he spotted on the shelf. I think this is what you are talking about, but I may be wrong, because I am not that educated in English language or writing, lol. But I'm learning, so feel free to correct me.

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@Talo Segura Yes, referencing is part of an allusion, it would be an indirect reference rather than a direct one. You can do it within a story to create symmetry or do it to real world subjects to create context.

 

You're example uses a direct object in a story to describe your character, it's also an example of foreshadowing, because you are placing seeds of expectations with the reference.

 

@Thorn Wilde It's more of a subtle play on words expressing a concept or even a person rather than a difference in meaning from an expression as an idiom can denote.

 

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Here's some examples of what I mean:
 

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Brian felt sad about a lot of things, he felt sad about his clothes being out of fashion, sad about his impossible homework assignments at school, sad about how other kids look at him as an outcast, and sad even when snow cancels school. He wanted to feel better, but something inside him wouldn't let him.

 

 

Concept I am alluding to here is: Depression by just describing some of its symptoms.
 

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"I could go for some chicken tenders and BBQ wings, Bert. Where do you think we can find some?"

"Ernie, shush, there's a yellow lady in the room who might be offended by that."

 

 

In this case, I am alluding to Big Bird from Sesame street, though since it's adult humor, it probably is her Drag queen counterpart from Avenue Q :P

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I see... Well, in that case (in either case, really) I use them all the time. What you refer to as allusion here, especially your first example, I refer to as, well, good writing. Showing, not telling. A character in Storms has multiple panic attacks. I don't call them panic attacks until well into the story. Instead I show how they make him feel, the symptoms of them, physical as well as mental. Anyone who's familiar with anxiety will recognise it. Not spelling things out all the time is just good storytelling, imo.

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I get what @W_L you are saying and illustrating, I would only comment that in the example alluding to depression, you would have to have had or know about depression to make the connection. I just thought Brian was really sad and unhappy, I didn't make that connection. In the second example, I understood nothing at all about Bert's comment, because I don't know Sesame Street or Avenue Q. My point is that alluding to something might very well go right over the heads of a lot of readers, which doesn't matter if you use it very sparingly, or if the reader can read the allusion and, as in your first example and my own example, it doesn't matter, but your second example, that reply by Bert, makes no sense unless you get the allusion. So I guess it's a double edged sword, if your readers get it, the story is elevated by the allusion, if they don't and it makes no sense, it could lose them.

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12 hours ago, Talo Segura said:

I get what @W_L you are saying and illustrating, I would only comment that in the example alluding to depression, you would have to have had or know about depression to make the connection. I just thought Brian was really sad and unhappy, I didn't make that connection. In the second example, I understood nothing at all about Bert's comment, because I don't know Sesame Street or Avenue Q. My point is that alluding to something might very well go right over the heads of a lot of readers, which doesn't matter if you use it very sparingly, or if the reader can read the allusion and, as in your first example and my own example, it doesn't matter, but your second example, that reply by Bert, makes no sense unless you get the allusion. So I guess it's a double edged sword, if your readers get it, the story is elevated by the allusion, if they don't and it makes no sense, it could lose them.

 

It's hard to do allusions that can relay your idea without being explicit about it. I agree, sometimes readers will get it and other times they might not without you being explicit at some point with them.

 

Also, "Brian example" is just one part of something, if I were to write about Depression. It's not always about sadness, but readers may more easily pick up on it. I know that depression can also manifests with "apathy" as well, if you suffer through it, you know sometimes it's a complete lack of emotion. You feel really numb. 

 

20 hours ago, Thorn Wilde said:

I see... Well, in that case (in either case, really) I use them all the time. What you refer to as allusion here, especially your first example, I refer to as, well, good writing. Showing, not telling. A character in Storms has multiple panic attacks. I don't call them panic attacks until well into the story. Instead I show how they make him feel, the symptoms of them, physical as well as mental. Anyone who's familiar with anxiety will recognise it. Not spelling things out all the time is just good storytelling, imo.

 

Really good point and nice example, you are trying to give readers the experience of what anxiety attacks are without mentioning the words. At some point, you still had to reveal that he was having panic attacks to readers, in order to identify the issue.

 

In older fiction, writers tended to not mention the terms or ideas at alll; they just let the reader come to the natural conclusion completely based on the allusion.

 

Like classic literature, "Catcher in the Rye" doesn't explicitly say that Mr. Antolini, Holden's old teacher, is gay, or Holden is feeling fear about his sexuality. However, his reactions to the pats on the head by his old teacher and his actions of leaving the house abruptly allude to those two concepts without ever going back to explain what it was exactly (Probably couldn't due to censorship, too).

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