In the movie E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, two characters are talking and one refers to something from Star Trek.

Here is the lines from that dialogue (source IMDB),

Elliott: He's a man from outer space and we're taking him to his spaceship.
Greg: Well, can't he just beam up?
Elliott: This is reality, Greg.

So a fictional movie is referring to another fictional story. Is there a term for this?

  • 3
    Would you accept TVTropes as a canonical source for literary terms? They have an article about this: This Is Reality.
    – Philipp
    Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 11:42
  • @Philipp I would accept ideas from TVTropes, I'm not looking for definitive definition, just terms and ideas that explore this concept. The link brings up another thought about the quote from the movie. I find it one thing for an character in fiction to say, this is reality. I find it another for a fictional character to say this fictional world is reality, but that other fictional world is not.
    – Bob516
    Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 13:06
  • 1
    "Do not use this tag to ask about terminology of specific topics that are not related to the craft of writing. In these cases you might want to check out EnglishLanguage&Usage.StackExchange and their single-word-requests tag." The requested term is tangentially related to writing at best and only in so much as it is a concept that appears in written media, not that it is part of the writing process. You're more likely to get a broader range of answers on EL&U than here as that site is more geared toward this type of request.
    – jmbpiano
    Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 16:08
  • I initially misunderstood your question. But now that I understand it, I think it should be migrated to EL&U. Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 21:06
  • 1
    EL&U is not crazy about questions about jargon used primarily within a particular field, those should be asked in the more specific SE site. So if this is about how writers refer to this practice when discussing the craft amongst themselves, it belongs here.
    – Barmar
    Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 23:39

4 Answers 4


Allusion, may be the term you are looking for.

Allusion is a brief and indirect reference to a person, place, thing or idea of historical, cultural, literary or political significance. It does not describe in detail the person or thing to which it refers. It is just a passing comment and the writer expects the reader to possess enough knowledge to spot the allusion and grasp its importance in a text. https://literarydevices.net/allusion/

While it does include things other than fiction for possible references, it's still fairly specific. The example you provided falls well within this definition. Perhaps "literary allusion" would be more fitting.

  • I'm not sure about this in relation to the example provided. While they don't explicitly say Star Trek, the two are so closely linked that it feels more like directly referencing than alluding to it. Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 13:48
  • I feel the "Beam Me Up" = Trek, despite never being said directly in it. That's what this is an allusion, and not a direct reference. It alludes to a frequently shown element in the show, and how it doesn't apply here (but it solved an issue of Drama for the show -- allowing "interplanetary" things to enter and exit the ship as quickly and easily as they can enter an office in a terrestrial show. ) Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 13:53
  • I agree that this is allusion rather than a direct reference, but that doesn't seem to be what the question is asking. What this answers is the question "What do you call it when someone refers to something indirectly, without actually saying its name?" But the question is "What do you call it when a fictional character says something like 'This isn't fiction but reality' and essentially lies to the reader?" Because obviously, ET is fiction, not reality. Reinforced here.
    – Brythan
    Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 15:57

I think Allusion is the best term for this scenario, but there can be other world-breaking type of scenarios. I adore MetaFiction, so the link to Intertextuality is a good starting place, and if you have time, yes, TV Tropes can show you a zillion parallels.

Some more things to explore:

  • This. Like the Necronomicon clearly shows.
    – Liquid
    Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 14:33

There is the general term self-reflexive, referring to when something refers to itself. (Now, if I can find a reference...) Ah, here we go -- Websters:

marked by or making reference to its own artificiality or contrivance. self-reflexive fiction


If you haven't found the term you are looking for yet, it is "meta." This term derives from "metafiction."

From MW.com

1 informal : showing or suggesting an explicit awareness of itself or oneself as a member of its category : cleverly self-referential

2 informal : concerning or providing information about members of its own category

Your example fits more into definition 2, while other meta examples are more self-aware and even "break the fourth wall" to comment on themselves.

Examples of the use of "meta":

Why Rick and Morty gets so meta

‘Scream’ Turns 20: 10 Reasons It’s Still a Meta-Horror Masterpiece

Rick and Morty's Latest Meta Episode 'Bashes' Its Own Narrative

What’s The Meta? How The Cabin in the Woods Subverted Horror

8 Unapologetically Meta SF/F Novels

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