A to Z 2017: Inside Jokes

My A-Z Blogging theme is to cover 26 touch-me-not categories of fiction writing. These are frequently the trouble spots which can be useful components of the story if handled properly, but when rushed through, can cause all kinds of trouble. While the genre is fantasy, the tips can apply to anything, from romance to literary fiction.


While exploring the ruins of an old castle, Mordekai and his sister Monique accidentally destroy an old tower only to find themselves in a different place, or time, entirely–with a mysterious princess on their hands who thinks ever noble’s name must begin with an “M,” among other absurd things.  Mordekai isn’t about to admit to his real name, so he tells her to call him Sir Kai. Then, suddenly, a giant goat crashes through the wall and carries him off.

I: Inside Jokes

Monique waited until they were out of the castle and crossing the stone courtyard to pester Mural further. ” If there’s an army on the way…shouldn’t we be mounting a rescue for Mordekai instead of running somewhere to hid?”

“We are not hiding. And we are going to rescue the whole realm. I am sure Sir Mordekai would agree.”

Monique frowned but couldn’t argue with that. He probably would. Mordekai was probably loving every moment of his medieval adventure, and, provided he wasn’t in too much danger, it would probably prove to be just what he needed. The only question is whether I’m going to be able to coax him to come back home with me. 

Monique followed the princess, despite her misgivings. She couldn’t help Mordekai at all in a strange land on her own, so for the time being, she had to follow the other woman’s lead.

Mural walked briskly past a wooden stable and turned the corner only to run straight into the arms of a tall man with decidedly prominent muscles. His thick, red mane of hair shone doubly fierce with the setting sun, and his steel grey eyes contained a look sharp enough to rival any sword.

He looked down at Mural. “Dropsy? What has the witch done to you now?” Then he held the young woman at arms length and gave her an appreciative gaze which made Monique eager to smack him right across his finely chiseled features. “No, you’re not Dropsy.”

“No, sir. I am Princess Mural.”

“And you’ll kindly take your hands off her,” Monique said, coming up quickly. The man seemed to ignore her warning glare, though he did back away.

“I must find her. Perhaps she’s in the castle. Or…do you have a moat?”

“No. But there is well over there,” she said, indicating a small building on the far side of the compound.

The man rushed away, muscles rippling. “Without so much as a thank you,” Monique muttered. “What a creep.”

“He did not creep. He moves quite well…though his armor seemed thin.”

What armor? The man wore what could only be called jeans, no matter what century one was in. They tapered to follow the contours of his thick, manly legs and were tight across his torso, and his button-down shirt flapped in the wind as he moved, the top five or six buttons deemed superfluous. He believes in displaying his muscular assets, regardless of the weather. She’d known guys like that, and couldn’t stand them.

“If you ask me, I think he’s crazy.”

“He has lost someone. I imagine the plight is a common one,” Mural said as she continued walking towards the outer wall, her direction indicating that they were aiming for a small door set in the stones. “The realm has not been safe since my uncle’s spell took effect. I only hope we are not too late.”

“To help Mordekai?

“No. To right the wrongs.”



Inside jokes are common in any fiction. Earlier, there were a few comments about wardrobes and ruby slippers that would only make sense for those who’d heard of The Chronicles of Narnia and The Wizard of Oz. Inside jokes can be a fun shorthand that you can share with your readers, providing humor and a greater understanding of your characters based on whether they like or dislike (or know nothing about) the cultural reference being made.

But inside jokes can be carried too far. I’ve read modern fantasy stories where many of the references were lost on me because I hadn’t seen the television shows in question. Similarly, there have been older works where I missed the joke because what was commonly read then is no longer common knowledge now (I’ve run into this in Milton, Little Women, and a number of other classics, where something that was meant to be funny just becomes a moment of confusion at best, and at worst a need to look at the footnotes). The inside joke only works if the reader has actually read or is aware of the source of the joke. Otherwise, your novel might be better if the joke is left out.

In this case, the joke hinges on whether you read Megan Morgan’s A-Z challenge from last year and still remember the character of Hawk MacHardcastle. Having him make a cameo appearance can be pure fun for the fans of Megan’s story, but I also tried to make the moment serve the plot as well, as it provides a chance to show Monique’s protective side in action and pairs her with Mural instead of pitting them against each other. But ultimately, such a scene should be high on the list to be cut from a final draft if the possible confusion outweighs the benefit of such humor (as it would here).

Until the next letter,



Copyright 2017 Andrea Lundgren

Photo courtesy of gratisography

13 thoughts on “A to Z 2017: Inside Jokes

  1. Hawk liiiiives! Oh my gosh, that’s so awesome you included him, and he’s just perfect. I do hope he finds Dropsy in the moat. She’s probably been cursed again. 😉 Thank you for this!


  2. I guess you have to apply the golden rule: does it serve the story? I’m not against a few cultural references (Terry Pratchett did this brilliantly), but it needs to make sense in the context of the story. Ie: if you don’t get the reference, it’ll slip by unnoticed. Don’t want readers scratching their heads!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Terry Pratchett did a great job, and I’d say Discworld was all about cultural references and turning them on their head. The more you knew about the subject, the more you got, but he did a good job of not belaboring the point. When he was being funny, he let the joke stand without making sure the reader got it. An absolute master at inside jokes.


  3. In fact, I think inside jokes are generally very risky, since the author can never take for granted the reader will know the source of the joke. Probably the only safe way to use them is inside the corpus of the same author, for example inside a series of stories, because in this case the chance that the reader will know is higher.

    I’ve often heard that it is a best practice to avoid ancoring the story too closely to the time when it’s written, because this would date it very fast.
    This is particularly relevanto for juvanile fiction, because is tempting for the author to use jouvanile slang to appeal the audionce, but that slang is likely to age in just a few years, with the risk to have just the contrary effect with the next generation.

    Personally, I think that making the story as autinimous as possible is always the best way to go 😉

    The Old Shelter – 1940s Film Noir


    1. That’s a good point, but including some of what is currently going on helps bring the past to life. The words we use, the clothes we wear, and what we find funny reflects the very world of the story, and trying to water that down or leave it out wouldn’t necessarily help the story be better. So I think balance is needed.

      In my works-in-progress, I regularly include a few Shakespeare quotes, but I don’t belabor the point. If the reader gets it, it’s a fun bonus, but if not, the story moves on. But these are more as references than as jokes. When a reader detects that something is supposed to be funny, but they aren’t getting it, that’s when they can feel left out, at which point, I agree with you. Leaving it out is probably wise.


  4. Hello, fellow A-to-Zer! Excellent point! I know I get annoyed when I come across a jumble of incomprehensible weirdness in a text, and later discover that it is an inside joke that I am not privy to. I think the best rule is to cut it unless you are absolutely sure it will stand on its own even if people don’t get the True Inwardness of your remark. Beta readers can be helpful in determining this. Thanks for this article!
    Melanie Atherton Allen


    1. Beta readers are worth their weight in gold in this area, especially if you choose people you don’t know personally, to where your “in jokes” won’t be known by them. There’s little worse than isolating your readers and indicating that they don’t really belong to the group that you, the author, and a few privileged, understanding readers belong to.

      Thanks for stopping by!


    1. How sad!! I kind of wrote this to prove the point that writing inside jokes that appeal to a few can hurt your story rathe than help it, so the fact that the joke was lost on you proves the point. If you’re going to write for other people to read and enjoy, you need to write with them in mind–not to where they dictate everything you put in, but certainly to where you’re trying to include jokes that they might get. If you write something only you and your closest friends will get, why publish it?

      Thanks for sharing you’re thoughts!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.