Is there a formal name for this writing technique? (name-dropping)

The technique whereby a writer of fiction attempts to add gravitas to his work by making mention of widely-acclaimed (other)authors or their works - I’ve seen numerous examples of this, but I don’t have a specific one to hand - usually it will be something of the form “A great monster, like something from the imagination of Lovecraft or Tolkien, swooped upon them” - where the comment is transparently a weak attempt to borrow glory from an established writer.

Is there a term for this, other than ‘name dropping’?

Well, “like something from Tolkien or Lovecraft” is of course a simile (or more generally a metaphor) but somehow I doubt that’s what you’re looking for answer-wise speaking.

It’s not the writer doing this though, is it? I’ve always assumed it was the publisher’s doing since they’re the ones concerned with marketing the book.

Generally speaking, they’re one author “praising” (I bet money is exchanged) another in a quote. Like this one on Chistopher Golden’s Strangewood " ’ If Clive Barker had gone through the looking glass, he might have come up with something as imaginative and compelling as Strangewood.’ - Kevin J. Anderson. " I find it amusing, because while Strangewood is quite good, Kevin Anderson is no judge of imaginative, at least gaging from his work.

What you’re talking about here is a “blurb.” Blurbs are independent of the body of the manuscript. The OP is talking about the author of the manuscript, within the book, referencing another author in an attempt to snag some of that author’s cachet.

I wish I knew the name of the technique so I could denounce it. I have put aside 4 books recently because the name-dropping was so annoying. One is from a mystery series where the main character runs a bookshop, and every tenth paragraph is something like “Sara’s eyes twinkled just like Agatha Christie’s Miss Jane Marple when she looked up from her knitting.” Yes, the series is about the owner of a mystery bookshop. But if she’d spend half the time on plot development as name-dropping, the stories would be twice as entertaining.

The other series was a period mystery series set in the 60’s where all the characters wore Chanel or Brooks Brothers or lunched with Jackie Kennedy or could see across the park to Bobby Short’s apartment. I read four chapters and then decide my remaining days on earth are spent in better ways.

This technique is just one particular type of allusion.

Whatever it is called, Erica Jong does it ad nauseum. Worse than any other author I’ve read.

I vote allusion also.

The technique is skewered brilliantly in Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho, containing as it does page after page of meticulously detailed trendy brand names and a dissertation on Huey Lewis and the News that must be read to be believed.

Done right, I think it can be a useful technique for an author. In Stephen King’s The Stand, we learn that silent hero Stu Redman read the book Watership Down by Richard Adams, and the character makes some observation about the book compared to his present situation. Frannie Goldsmith compares her soap-opera life to a Rob McKuen poem. As they leave New York, Larry Underwood comments to his lady friend that they are on a quest, like Frodo Baggins. Starkey, looking over the remains of Project Blue, is reminded of Yeats and the beast that slouches toward Bethlehem. And boy genius Harold Emery Lauder learned to read and write by copying lines from … damn, now the title has slipped my mind, but from another book about a boy genius inventor.

In this particular case, the allusions are attached to characters. The characters are made to seem intelligent and well-read and are given depth by the association. King also alludes quite a lot to songs and Biblical passages, connecting them to characters, because, well, people come with their own education and songs and favorite sayings.

Free-floating allusions that stand in for the author’s own inventiveness, yeah, those bug me too. Unless Pratchett does it, because I know he’s not serious. :slight_smile:

The practice of one author praising another in blurbs (and who is then praised in turn by that author or a third author who has been praised by the initially praised author is logrolling.

The technique of alluding to real life characters to make your characters (who are thinly-veiled stand-ins for actual historical characters) is roman-a-clef.

This is not exactly what’s being described though. Generally, trying to borrow the glory of someone more famous or established than oneself is known as “riding his (or her) coattails.” “Basking in reflected glory” is another case of capitalizing on the approval of another, which is about as close as anything I know of to describe what the OP is referring to. “Stealing thunder” is another term that is ALMOST but not quite right.

To coin a phrase, I’d suggest “character leeching” or “character leeches.”

Steven King referenced himself in the latest Dark Tower book. A couple of times, his characters come across other books he’s written.

King also based an entire book around relief pitcher Tom Gordon, who plays for … who, the Yankees now?

I haven’t read those references—I stopped reading King after Misery and before Tommyknockers. Would you say those are examples of name-dropping done well or done badly? :slight_smile:

It’s basically just a pop-culture reference, isn’t it? If I write describe a character as having “a figure like Marilyn Monroe,” I’m not trying to “borrow glory” from Marilyn, I’m just trying to describe a character by comparing her to a well known person. I think it’s a perfectly valid technique, although it it one that can be easily abused. kittenblue’s example is a particularly bad one, because it’s not really descriptive. Mrs. Marple isn’t best known for having glittering eyes, she’s best known for being a middle-aged English woman who solves crimes. All that author is doing is showing off that she’s read Agatha Christie, which isn’t particularly unique among mystery writers. Describing a monster as “Lovecraftian,” on the other hand, is reasonably descriptive (although a bit cliche), because Lovecraft is known for having incredibly alien monsters that can’t be described in human terms. You say, “He saw a Lovecraftian horror,” you’ve got some idea of what the monster looked like. It probably involves more tentacles than are strictly healthy, for example.

Yeah—a buncha Crisco in a clear Tupperware container.

Oh, wait, I think someone has messed with these Tupperware labels. Now who put the “Lovecraftian horror” label on this Crisco?

Re: Characters appearing in other books

Most of the time, it’s an author trying to tie together a world in his books. In Stephen King’s books, it’s usually just a cameo (Dick Hallorran from The Shining makes a brief appearance in It). Kurt Vonnegut does it more extensively. Diana Moon Glampers and Kilgore Trout both make repeated appearances in his books.