Critiques w/ Pop Culture References: Fantasy

Pop Culture Tweet

The other day, I had a great conversation on Twitter concerning pop culture references during the critique/beta reading process. It was something that has stuck in my head awhile as a great blog post idea.


Originally, this thought was tweeted out by TheKatsMews if you would like to get to know this awesome beta reader here are some links to her universe:

Follow Her on Twitter @TheKatsMews

Kat’s Blog (Great place for writing tips, book reviews, and thoughts on beta reading)

Our other compatriot that joined the discussion deserves a shoutout too.

Rachel Lenzi is a writer and super fun. Here are some links for her:

Follow Her on Twitter @LenziWrites

Rachel’s Writing Blog


I am personally a huge fan of using this method to let the reader know what the world reminds me of or what it feels like. This beta reader isn’t saying that the writer is unoriginal. In my case, I use it as a means to describe the atmosphere or tone of the work.

Let me show you what I mean with these examples:

Alice in Wonderland vs. Wizard of Oz

This is a classic example that I’m sure everyone has used — but they have completely different feels and color schemes. The thing is you could trade the stories art directions and still have complete films. This is about packaging.

Alice in Wonderland has a lot of bold coloring and funky-animation that people compare to being on acid. I wouldn’t know though having never tried acid myself. The world has deep blues and bright reds. Where as, Wizard of Oz is technicolor fantastic with yellows, greens and reds. They just feel different.

This gives the writer and beta a way to talk about the vision in the manuscript in a way that’s relatable. It’s pointing at an example that both parties are familiar with.

Now, there are times when a story is reminiscent or similar to a pop culture reference but that still doesn’t mean you aren’t producing good work.

Labyrinth vs. Legend and Willow vs. The Neverending Story

I know that with this example I’m dating myself a bit but these movies are part of one of my favorite genres, those 80’s hi-fantasy movies.

Labyrinth has some dark coloring in it, mixed with silver and David Bowie (which is art direction on his own). But the difference between the worlds of the Goblin King and the Lord of Darkness is actually bigger than it seems at first glance.

Labyrinth has those earth tones. Legend is reds and purples… for the most part.

On the flip side, the difference between Willow and The Neverending Story is vast. Willow has brighter earth tones than Labyrinth. Where Labyrinth has black mixed into a good portion of it’s world, Willow is mostly browns. The Neverending Story is all dark blues, bright greens and white.

Although a writer isn’t trying for art direction in their work, references can really help get across what the writer’s world feels like to the reader.

Lord of the Rings

If we’re being honest, Lord of the Rings is a vast world, even in film. When coming up with pictures for this post, I made a joke to my husband, “I could do a whole post on the different art direction for regions of LoTR.”

Comparing The Shire to Mordor is a vast difference. I’ve decided it, if you want to use LoTR as a pop reference, maybe give the writer some geography.

Mists of Avalon vs. Excalibur

Arthurian stories are another realm where there are a ton of different movies to choose from. I chose these two because their color schemes are similar (and the story isn’t even though they are both King Arthur).

The main difference in this example isn’t color scheme. The main difference is contrast. Does the world you’re reading have high contrast or low.

I want to make a note that whenever you are using a pop culture reference explain to the writer what about the world reminds you of their story.

Sometimes it can be dialogue. Or setting. Maybe it really is just about colors. But the second part of this is stating why a pop culture reference is comparable to their work.

How to Train Your Dragon vs. Reign of Fire

Although, the first is a great movie and the other one is terrible, in this analogy we are just looking at how vastly different a world of dragons can really feel. I don’t feel like I need to keep explaining this 🙂

Harry Potter vs. Percy Jackson

Now that I think of it this would be an awesome showdown. However, the main thing I want to point out is this. The coloring in these worlds is very similar to me. They just look very different. The contrast is similar. There is one unmistakable difference though.

These stories are VERY different.

Which leads me to my last points. I could write this list of references for fantasy movies forever.

Popular culture references aren’t a bad thing when receiving feedback. A glimpse into what the reader’s world looks like can be immensely helpful for the writer.

And using references like these makes it easy for the writer to understand what you are talking about with artistic flair.

What does the book you’re reading right now look like in your mind? What about the ones you’re writing? What about the book you want to write?

I plan on making this into a series because I’ve had so much fun with it. Thanks again to my new friends Kat and Rachel, you will be mentioned again in the future! 🙂


4 thoughts on “Critiques w/ Pop Culture References: Fantasy

  1. I feel that much of our creativity is subconsciously influenced by our youth. As a mother of two, I am really getting a driver’s seat view of how things are perceived. They watch (some of) the same movies and television shows that I watched in my youth. And now that I’m watching it again twenty years later, it’s amazing to see what my mind remembered. It certainly wasn’t the same thing I see now!

    I love the comparisons you’ve made. Colors, atmosphere, tone, they are all such important players in the unique mental images writer’s have. Pop culture(s) has a way of uniting the captured magic in our hearts.

    Great post, as always!

    Liked by 1 person

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