Literary Easter Eggs
Should you include literary Easter eggs in your manuscript? I did. Here’s why:
- Readers Love The Hunt
- Easter Eggs Reveal Character
- It’s A Sneaky Way To Foreshadow
What’re Literary Easter Eggs?
Literary Easter eggs are surprises like the chocolatey eggs left by the Easter Bunny. Only these surprises are yummy in a different way. They’re mind candy left by the writer for the reader’s delight. The formal term for this literary device is “allusion.”
Writing for Writers Digest magazine, author Robin Yeatman describes literary Easter eggs this way:
“These tasty nuggets can be anything from an inside joke, references to other books and works of art, or even a secret message. Such subtle allusions add an extra layer to any story and can be quite powerful tools in a writer’s kit.”
As part of your toolkit, literary Easter eggs can make your reader feel “more connected” to you and your story.
Readers Love the Hunt
There’s nothing like the pleasure of discovering a secret. Readers enjoy the hunt. And if they know you’ve left treasures in your prose for them to find, it makes them feel like an “insider” when they get the reference.
One of my favorite literary Easter eggs is one by Lewis Carroll of Alice in Wonderland fame. After the publication of his magical tales of Alice’s adventures, he kept getting the same question from readers: Is the Alice character inspired by a real person?
Carroll responded to the question in a delightful way. According to the Bohemian Bibliophile in the Literary Easter Eggs You May Have Missed, you will find the “answer in the acrostic poem at the end of Lewis Carroll’s Alice Through the Looking-Glass titled A Boat Beneath a Sunny Sky. The first letter of every line spells out ‘Alice Pleasance Liddell,’ the young girl who inspired the story.”
A Boat Beneath a Sunny Sky
by Lewis Carroll
A boat beneath a sunny sky,
Lingering onward dreamily
In an evening of July —
Children three that nestle near,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Pleased a simple tale to hear —
Long has paled that sunny sky:
Echoes fade and memories die:
Autumn frosts have slain July.
Still she haunts me, phantomwise,
Alice moving under skies
Never seen by waking eyes.
Children yet, the tale to hear,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Lovingly shall nestle near.
In a Wonderland they lie,
Dreaming as the days go by,
Dreaming as the summers die:
Ever drifting down the stream —
Lingering in the golden gleam —
Life, what is it but a dream?
Easter Eggs Reveal Character
Indirect character revelation, that is. When authors have one of their characters reference another literary work, song, or work of art, it tells us something. We learn what’s going on inside the character’s head without having to be told. We’re shown, as in the old “show don’t tell” maxim for creative writing.
Example: In my debut mystery All that Glisters, when the narrator’s boss quotes from Tennyson’s The Charge of the Light Brigade, we get a glimpse into the boss’ military mindset. Orders will be obeyed. Period. Full stop.
This eliminates any need on my part as the writer for long expository paragraphs about duty and compliance and keeping your mouth shut. That last item about “not mouthing off” is particularly difficult for my narrator/sleuth Thad Hanlon who tends to crack wise. Will Thad follow orders? Check out Chapter 8 to find out.
So, yes, literary references can be a real shorthand. And very “telling” when it comes to personality reveal.
Sneaky Way to Foreshadow
Clueing the reader to a forthcoming title by burying hints in the current volume is a mainstay of some authors. Stephen King is famous for it. But the best example of foreshadowing an upcoming title is Dan Brown’s thriller Deception Point. On the final page of that thriller, he encrypts a message using a string of random letters and numbers:
If you replace each number with the first letter in the corresponding chapter in Deception Point (there are 133 chapters), you end up with a new cipher:
T V C I R H I O L F E N D L A D C E S C A I W U E
Then, if you convert that cipher into a 5×5 cube and read top to bottom you’ll learn the title of Brown’s next book in the clear text: The Da Vinci Code Will Surface.
T V C I R
H I O L F
E N D L A
D C E S C
A I W U E
Clever to a fault! But what an Easter egg.
Foreshadowing titles with Easter eggs is one thing. But another way to use literary Easter eggs for foreshadowing is to hide them early in the book to portend later plot developments in the novel. See Yeatman’s article for an example.
Did You Hide Any Easter Eggs in All that Glisters?
Oh, yeah. There are some twenty-five literary Easter eggs hidden in the novel. Some overt. And some covert, tucked away in the wording, just waiting for the reader to discover.
In All that Glisters, I’ve included references to literary giants, shout-outs to pop song composers/lyricists, and a salute or two to Big Money names—financial heroes of today and yesteryear. In addition, there are homages to mystery and thriller writers that influenced me, a little jewel about communication theory, and even a recipe. To get you started on the hunt, here are hints for three of the twenty-five or so literary Easter eggs.
Hidden Recipe. For those who like to spend time in the kitchen, I’ve included a recipe—the ever-popular ingredient for many Cozy Mysteries—though I would classify my mystery as more mainstream than cozy. Hint: Look for a scene with a brand-name blender.
Time-saving Advice. In an earlier life, I co-authored a couple of college texts on business communication. This hidden gem’s about effective media selection. Hint: Watch for a scene where the narrator’s having trouble getting his message across. Second Hint: Smartphone.
CPA-Turned-Mystery-Writer. Finally, there’s an ostrich-sized Easter egg, reserved to pay tribute to the first certified public accountant to make it big as a popular novelist with his mysteries and thrillers. Hint: The homage consists of a reference to the CPA-turned-author and one of his CPA-turned-sleuth characters from his early mysteries. Second Hint: Finding this Easter egg may require a little snooping with an Internet search engine. But it’s worth it—providing proof positive some analytical types have a creative gift.
P.S. Since my protag is a surfing crime-fighter, I would be remiss if I didn’t have a literary Easter egg about a surf rockstar. See if you can spot it. Hint: The “Ambassador of Aloha.”
5 Reasons Why Writers Should Include Literary Easter Eggs in Their Books by Robin Yeatman (Feb 20, 2023).
Literary Easter Eggs You May Have Missed by the Bohemian Bibliophile (Apr 6, 2023)
Debut Authors Night Invitation
If you were unable to make the official book launch party a couple of weeks ago, no worries! Come to the “Debut Authors Night” on November 14th from 6:30-730 p.m. at the St. George Main Library (88 W. 100 S. St George, UT 84770, USA) hosted by the Write On!—St. George chapter of the League of Utah Writers.
Novelists Amanda Empey (White Crown Academy: The North Sky Hunt) and I (All that Glisters) will be doing short readings, signing books, and answering questions.
Hope to see you there.
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