Homage or Formage?

So I was listening to Mirror Image Episode One the other day and the writer did something I really dislike whenever I hear it. (And I’ve heard it done a lot!) Some elements of Mirror Image are similar to the movie Entrapment and so when the “good guys” explain to the new thief they need a thief to catch a thief the first thing the new thief does is make a joke about this being just like Entrapment!

I really don’t like it when writers do this. What they’re doing is basically saying “yeah, I know my story (or story element) is just like (insert show/movie/comic/etc here) but you don’t need to point that out because I’m saying that up front”. On the surface that actually does seem reasonable- I mean they’re citing their sources right? If you cite the source, doesn’t that turn it into an homage? That may be true, but from my perspective it isn’t an homage so much as formage (the French word for Cheese).

It’s like you’re hanging a big sign on your work saying “I wasn’t original enough to come up with a new idea, and I don’t think I’m good enough to do something better with it, so just leave me alone okay?” You’re branding your work inferior right from the get go, and even worse you’re making your audience now automatically compare what you’re doing to that other work! Now that I heard that reference in Mirror Image, I’m going to be constantly mentally comparing it to Entrapment because the writer has just connected the two. If he’d just kept quiet it would have been easy to just accept the work on it’s own (I hadn’t even thought about Entrapment while listening until he mentioned it) but now I’m forced to make comparisons. How does that help him impress me? How will this make his story better?

I don’t mean to pick on Mirror Image, which I enjoyed the first episode of and is worth giving a listen to, but I see this issue pop up a lot in the works of young writers and wanted to say something about it. When you write you’re trying to bring your audience into the world you’re creating and keep them there for the duration of the story, anything that takes them outside of that little world you’re creating is a bad thing and should be avoided. Outside references, in-jokes, homages are all things that come with a price tag, so when you do them you better be aware of what that price is and whether it’s worth paying.