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In-jokes and why everything is so much more interesting when you’re a writer

October 15, 2011

Organised crime, the Dutch language, the Roman empire, Paris, the occult ... A selection of topics relevant to my stories.

Recently I went to a used book sale. The books were just around $4 and most of them were non-fiction books. It was research heaven. And it’s in such a place that I realise just how much my interests are influenced by my stories and the people in them.

I overheard one of the people who worked there asking a customer what they were looking for. The answer was quite simple. A certain historical period, a geographic region, a type of psychology – that sort of answer. One single thing. “Wow,” I thought, “that must be cheap and easy.” And also not nearly as interesting as I find having a diversity of interests.
I do enjoy the feeling of leafing through a book for information and inspiration, but I’m not the kind of writer who reads a newspaper article or the like and get an idea for a novel. I’m the sort who has an idea and then I get excited when I find a newspaper article that relates to it.
Since I work on a number of stories at the same time and have a quite a few characters who have starred in short fiction and are waiting for me to write their novels (or at least give them a prominent role in someone else’s story), there is a lot to research to be done. Writing historical fiction and having people in some of the stories who have been around for literally a couple of thousand years obviously doesn’t make it more simple.
I still need to find good resources on daily life in the Persian Empire around 500 BC, if anyone out there just so happens to know any books on the subject.

So that was the useful research part. Are you wondering about the in-jokes? Well, the thing is, I don’t just stop at research and books. I find myself relating all sorts of things that I encounter to my writing. A cafe having the name of one of my main characters? That is funny. Having the sort of beverage that another protagonist likes while I’m writing their story? That is nice and cosy. Seeing someone in the street who looks remarkably like one of my guys? I’ve yet to ask someone if I can take their picture because they look like this person that I’m writing a novel about, but I have been close.

A camera from around 1950 that may be part of a collection belonging to one of my protagonists.

I have come onto possession of a few things that have something to do with my stories. One of my protagonists wears a trilby and he made me appreciate the look so much that I got one very much like it. Silly? Maybe, but in addition to being a funny in-joke and a really nice hat, if I need to get into the spirit of his story, then wearing it will work wonders.
Last year, right after the last NaNoWriMo, a friend gave me the camera on the left because my main character collected old and antique cameras. Another friend knitted a bat for me with pinstriped wings. Why? Well, one of my guys (a vampire) jokingly introduced himself as “a fruitbat” in the first story he ever appeared in. And he likes to wear a pinstriped suit.
It’s not just that my friends indulge me. These people happen to be writers as well and have the same sense of humour that I have when it comes to these things.
I find all these in-jokes entertaining, but often they’re more than that. Like the hat, they can help fuel creativity. I bond with the people in my stories through these things and can get some interesting little insights into them.

Do you find that being a writer gives you a wider range of interests? Are you on constant lookout for research material? Do you have in-jokes with yourself or other writers? Do you own something that (and because) your main character does?

10 Comments leave one →
  1. October 16, 2011 3:08 am

    Yes, I do think writers have a wide range of interests compared to nonwriters because we are always searching for things to add interest and realism to our writing.
    Yes, I’m constantly on the look out for research material (books, magazines, websites, items).
    Yes, I do have in-jokes because they add a lot to my writing and, well, it’s just plain fun.
    Yes, I pick up things my characters may own. Because I write a lot of fantasy, I’ve gathered things such as swords, daggers, ‘magical’ stones, candle holders, hurricane lanterns, horse shoes, blacksmith tools, necklaces, capes, etc. One character plays the flute, so I’ve downloaded flute music to play when I’m writing her scenes. I’ll also build a fire to remind me of things if my characters are working around a fire.
    All of this adds to the story, but, as I said, it’s also plain fun.


    • October 16, 2011 10:37 am

      Thanks a lot for the comment! 🙂
      It seems like I’m not the only one who enjoys those things. – Phew.
      And wow, it sounds like you have quite a collection. I have considered dabbling in weapons, but fortunately (?) I don’t have a lot of weapon wielding people around.


  2. October 17, 2011 9:17 pm

    I just finished the Stephen King short story collection “Full Dark, No Stars,” and was quite surprised to find that a minor character in the last story has the same first name as my current protagonist, Petra. (I’d have been less surprised if the name King and I had chosen was “Mary,” or “John.”)

    I know what you mean by “inside character jokes.” My hubby and I call cheese puffs, “Suzy food.” Dubiously consumable liquid is “Jesus Juice.” Dubiously edible liquidly food is “Murder Sauce.” Any bearded, backwoods hillbilly on TV is “Popcorn,” a moonshiner in a WIP. Hmm . . lots of food jokes here. I’m off to psychoanalyze . .


    • October 17, 2011 10:46 pm

      That’s a funny coincidence.
      Yes, that’s exactly the kind of inside jokes I’m thinking about. I especially like the “Suzy food”. For some reason, I associate a lot of my guys with fruits and berries. One of them is very fond of strawberries, but some of the others are more farfetched.
      Thank you for commenting! 😀


  3. October 18, 2011 5:23 pm

    I know exactly what you mean. There isn’t enough time in the day to pursue all of my varied interests, which can be frustrating. Until now, though, I hadn’t connected that with me being a writer – I just thought I was a tad eccentric, haha. (But I guess writing and eccentricity sometimes go hand in hand, don’t they?) I’ve always liked to go above and beyond when I’m researching for a novel, just because I love to learn about anything, and more is always better. But it also seems that I can’t read an article without thinking “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if…” (Too many ideas, not enough time, but that’s another conversation altogether!)


    • October 18, 2011 9:23 pm

      Oh yes, all those interesting things we find when we research! It’s easy to get lost in them and get even more ideas. I think you’re right, it takes a certain amount of eccentricity to be a writer (or any kind of artist).
      Thank you for visiting and commenting! 🙂


  4. October 18, 2011 10:48 pm

    Used bookstores here in Edinburgh are a constant source of temptation that I am trying to avoid due to finances and the simple fact that everything I purchase must be shipped back to the States in a year! It’s ever so hard, though, because the books in these shops are so old and old books are a particular temptation of mine. I adore old books and I’m not picky about the topic, so long as they look pretty…

    As far as inside jokes go… if you read my serial in the Lantern Hollow e-zine, you will never think about pitchforks the same way again.

    I think that being a writer makes you see the world with one foot in fiction/fantasy and one foot in “reality” (because I’m not entirely sure that the former is not somehow a part of the latter). When I see lovely, interesting, or otherwise inspiring things (like my lamp posts!), I feel like a story is just around the corner and if I dart around it fast enough, I can catch it by the tail and make it my own.


  5. October 25, 2011 3:30 pm

    I think people write because they’re naturally curious…which makes them more likely to research a wide variety of topics.

    Sometimes that makes me self-conscious, like when I go to the library and check out a lot of books on plane crashes and then, during my next flight, try to observe the flight attendants and ground crew without looking suspicious.

    I’ve also roasted my own coffee because that’s what a character did. I used to drink my coffee with cream and sugar, but started drinking it black to get into his head. Today, I still add milk, but I managed to drop the sugar!

    Now I just need to write about an exercise fiend. 🙂


    • October 27, 2011 9:22 am

      Good point! “I want to see what happens” is one of my reasons for writing, so I suppose that does make me curious.
      Haha, the good thing is that no one knows we’re observing them like that.
      I didn’t like beer earlier. Then one of my characters taught me how to appreciate the taste … Not the healthiest anecdote to date, but … My coffee habits change with the people I’m writing about too.
      Thank you for the comment! 🙂


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