I asked my cousin to read a piece of writing of mine and in the piece I made a reference to “The Pied Piper” and he had absolutely no idea what I was talking about. His response was “You can’t reference things that no one else knows about. No one is going to understand your writing if they don’t get the references.” I was extremely surprised by this response. I thought that all children read the story of “The Pied Piper of Hamelin”.
Is this true for writers, that we cannot reference something unless a lot of people know about and understand the reference? Lately, I have been having a lot of difficulty understanding the fact that humans today have unlimited knowledge right at their fingertips and yet we only use it to play games and watch videos. The youth of today should be incredible writers. They have programs that correct their grammar and spelling. They have unlimited source information at the click of a button. They have millions of literary works sitting in their pocket. Their writing has the potential to be absolutely fantastic, but yet I reference “The Pied Piper” and a high school student doesn’t know what I’m talking about.
But this phenomenon is not limited to high school students. A couple of weeks ago I referenced “The Divine Comedy” in a conversation with adults. Not one person knew what I was talking about. It wasn’t until I said “Dante’s Inferno” that a few of them finally got on board. Not one of them knew that it’s one part of a 3 part epic poem called “The Divine Comedy”. If you take 5 seconds and Google “Dante’s Inferno” that information is right there on the right side of the screen. It is one thing to not be able to reference a character in a random book, but to not be able to reference a piece that’s considered by many people to be one of the greatest pieces ever written? That’s a little absurd.
I want to be able to make references in my pieces. I want to be able to quote a famous line from a famous poet and have people actually know what I’m talking about. I believe that it’s important to reference great works and wonderful characters. If a character in your story or poem makes a reference to “The Pied Piper” people should be able to draw up the image in their minds, and if they can’t, they should be able to take a few seconds and look it up.
I try not to cater too much to my readers, but that’s probably why I’ll never be famous. I want someone to come away from my writing having felt that they learned something or now possess a thought that they wouldn’t have had otherwise. We are supposed to be taking people on a journey. We’re supposed to be sending them to a different time and place. We’re supposed to put them in a situation that they can relate to or one that they have never experienced and then we allow them to experience it. Make your references. Use your quotes. If the reader doesn’t understand them then maybe it will cause them to look it up and learn something. They might even find love for a writer that they never would have read otherwise.