(I had this post in mind to write months ago, last Easter, but it wasn’t possible to write and post it back then for a variety of reasons. Even though it’s no longer Easter, there’s no real connection beyond the name, so I figured I’d go ahead and write it now)
In 1979, a programmer for Atari, working on the game “Adventure,” was fed up with not being credited for his work. In secret, he added a feature that could be used to display his name, and never told his bosses even after he left the company. When Atari management learned of it, they considered removing the unauthorized feature, but instead decided to leave it in. Atari started adding more ‘hidden’ features for customers, calling them “Easter Eggs.” (I pulled this bit of history entirely from the link; I’ll just assume it’s the truth and not apocryphal) These of often fun little inside jokes, though sometimes (in software, at least) can add quite a bit of enjoyment to the game.
I like to have fun with my writing, even when writing about serious things. Among other ways of doing so, I include ‘Easter Eggs,’ ‘Inside Jokes,’ whatever you want to call them. Often, for me, this is in the form of ‘fantasy’ languages (for example, mid-way through In Treachery Forged, the characters partake in a Dwarven ‘Fu’Ro Bath‘), making subtle references to my other books and stories (such as when, in one draft (not the first) of The Merrimack Event‘s prologue, the archaeology expedition was digging up a building which greatly resembled the Royal Castle of Svieda; those details did not survive to the final draft, however), or giving characters certain meaningful names (like when I use one of the monuments in the city of Norre to add a expy-like tribute to the 1974 Washington Capitals season (and, in an earlier draft, to a certain Monty Python movie, but again that didn’t survive to the final version). In my fantasy novels, many of the names I use are derived from names pulled off of international hockey rosters, and the Washington Capitals have long been my favorite team (WE GOT THE CUP! Uh… sorry; it’s been weeks and I’m still quite happy about that one). Their inaugural season, in 1974, was an exercise in futility, however).
The difference between an inside joke and an ‘easter egg’ (at least, in this context) is that an easter egg is hidden away, but could be recognized if you know to look for it. Most of the jokes mentioned above? I try not to give any indication that they’re jokes, when seen in context, but it might be obvious to people in the know. If you know Japanese, the ‘Fu’Ro bath’ was probably pretty obvious. The archaeological dig’s discoveries might have been a bit obvious to my regular readers, if that scene had survived intact. I’m not so sure casual fans of the Washington Capitals would recognize that particular tribute, but someone who was particularly knowledgeable on the team’s history might see it an go “wait, what?”
The trouble comes with what happens if you want your Easter Egg to refer to one thing, but readers might think it refers to something else. I really, really wanted to name a character of a recently-written scene Ubleck the Unbreakable, who would have had an odd fondness for certain types of custard-like puddings, but would readers (those who recognized the reference, anyway) think of the non-newtonian fluid, or the Dr. Seuss book it was named after? Or would people recognize the reference at all? Does it even matter?
Well, sadly, Ubleck the Unbreakable will NOT be appearing in the next Law of Swords book — I’ve already cut the character and merged his role in with someone else’s, so the pudding fiend will be saved for another time… perhaps. But at least he reminded me of something I wanted to blog about, so there is that.