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Writing With Cookies and Easter Eggs

One of the key things authors need to keep in mind when writing is exactly who their chosen audience is. You know, the usual things - age group, baseline demographics, even education level (think about it - write a novel that's only really enjoyable to people with doctorates and you've eliminated over 90% of any potential audience). What I want to write about here is your in-genre audience and keeping all sides of the fence happy; as usual, it's a science fiction biased piece, but it rings true for any genre.

Back in computer game land (and back a few years as well, although it might still hold, it's been ages since I've been active) there were things called Easter Eggs or Cookies - little rewards or bonuses hidden around that those in the know could find. They added a touch of variety to gameplay, and gave a small slice of the audience something extra without taking away from everyone else's experience. In the world of movies and novels the same principle holds with in-jokes, or double meanings; the majority of the audience gets the main lines, a minority sees the extra hidden underneath and gets a kick out of it. One of the best examples in movie land I've come across is in The Invincibles; a great kids animation, but the not-so-hidden layer of adult references and underlying comedy makes it a good one for older viewers.

With novels it's harder. We toil with words and, let's be honest, it can be tricky to load double meaning into a single phrase when even the words themselves can be distorted through readers' perception. A face on film can say one thing, look like another, do a third thing and convey a fourth emotion simultaneously; but writing with Cookies and Easter Eggs is a hard trick to repeat in a novel.

Then, more to the point is how do you split your audience and aim your Easter Eggs? The first part of my trilogy, Descent: Death is science fiction, aimed at an audience over 16 years old who have an education (and language skill in English) of a high school graduate. But inside that audience there's a wide variety of readers, and I don't want to get too many of them off side; I want a novel that all of them can enjoy. Particularly readers who've been in the genre a long while, and read broadly outside it; how to give them something without losing new readers?

One trick inside Descent: Death is my character and place names. All innocuous enough, nothing too strange that the whole novel can't be read cover to cover without any really glaring speed bumps. But, for the more broadly read, each name, each place has been selected for a specific reason, with a tendril of connection outside the novel that throws across to some part of the worldbuilding underneath.

Understand them and a deeper, nuanced view of what lies beneath emerges; don't, and no harm's done. So the fresh-to-the-genre reader can still enjoy the novel, and the more experienced readers can be pulled into a deeper read.

And hopefully, many years in the future, revisiting Descent: Death will be more rewarding than the first time.

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