As a fangirl and an avid user of the internet, I’ve come to understand something very important: Our language has evolved to include memes.
The internet speaks in a language of text and pictures where it can be assumed that a large portion of your audience understands what you’re talking about. Visual Media like Comics and Cartoons can easily slip these references in for the audience, sometimes by copying a pose or a catchphrase for those in-the-know.
Books are harder to do that with. Without the visual medium, many visual-based references get missed.
So how do you do it? Here’s a few techniques I’ve found to be helpful.
The Blatant Name-Drop: If your main character needs to Hulk-out to get the job done, go for it. The audience will understand and get the extra layer of meaning.
The Covert Insert: Make the reference without context. Tell the reader you just ran into a boy wizard with shaggy black hair and glasses and his redheaded friend. Don’t come right out with it, but don’t try too hard to hide it. Just let it come out naturally like it would with your friends. Your people will hear you.
The James Joyce: make the reference as hard to understand as possible. Anagrams, metaphors, and dead languages are the tools of the trade. Also, make a whole bunch of references and run them together with some letters left out to make it an onomathunderopoeia.