1. Blending the new with the familiar
Some books do not simply quote or allude to another work, but create a new version of the story. Marissa Meyer’s The Lunar Chronicles is one example of young adult fiction that spins off of fairy tales like Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood. These fairy tales are stories that we already enjoy. A spin off story is entertaining in that we are able to connect elements of it to the original and yet feel that the story is fresh with new details.
2. Building off of pre-existing works
Sometimes words from one character reappear in another character’s mouth. In Brave New World, John speaks Miranda’s words from The Tempest “O brave new world that has such people in it.” Hearing the same words but in a different context adds layers of depth. Is John simply another Miranda figure who has been sheltered and is ignorant of the world? Or is the sexual tension with Miranda layered with John’s tension with seeing a civilized society?
3. Connecting individual pieces to the greater world
One of the greatest part of being a writer may be the ability to synthesize ideas and connect works. While a book is a single object, it is never alone because there is a history to it and a context of the culture it is published in. Some works even derive their whole meaning off of references, such as the Epic Rap Battles of History.
Instead of seeing references as an annoyance in that it may cause us to pause and research them if we do not know them, references should be seen as our way of connecting pieces of the world to make sense of it. From history to pop culture, references are everywhere.