Wacko Wednesdays: Catch Phrases

Writing Tips

Showing personality through habitual wordings.

If you could see all the different kinds of real life characters I come across in the tech geek community, you’d never wonder why I spend too much of my writing time on-line.  There are some true characters in the Web2.0 crowd, both good ones and bad ones, cheerleaders and haters, zen gurus and crazies.  The egos on some of these guys (and I mean guys, because the women are mostly cool) are bigger than the numbers on a bookie’s ‘you owe me’ list.  Seriously, it is a VERY good thing that space online is virtual, because the amount of real estate needed to house these overblown self-images would mean we’d have to take over the Americas and then kidnap scientists to develop moon colonies.  Like my favorite fiction-writing saying goes: You can’t make this stuff up.

Anyway, FriendFeed is a website I hang out with these geeks.  Forget the friendly name – these people are neither friends nor providers of any food.  FriendFeed is an aggregator, i.e. one website that collects little bits from other websites, where you can type in comments in response to those little bits.  It’s like a chatroom, but not live.

A big name in this place and in the tech geek community at large is Robert Scoble.  I won’t even try to describe Robert; you can google him, he practically owns the interwebz.   Recently on FriendFeed he linked to a site run by another start-up boom gazillionaire, Mark Cuban.  Mark wrote a short rant about a pet peeve of his.   Mr. Cuban’s  personality *ahem* shows:

You Just Dont Get It

Jul 5th 2008 3:24PM

I just want to put it out there to save everyone and anyone who deals with me time. If at any point in time you utter the words “Just Don’t Get It” or “Just Doesn’t Get It” in any conversation with me, I will not do business with you.

If you try to justify your business, idea, proposal or whatever and in the course of conversation you utter these words, you have just proven to me that you are lazy. That rather than discussing the merits of another position, you think I’m stupid enough to dismiss that position because you want me to.

If you truly understand your topic its really easy to stand behind your position with facts and well thought concepts. If you have no idea what you are talking about, the other side “just doesn’t get it”

Call it a Mark Cuban rule of investing. If these words come up in any way shape or form, they just dont get “it”. “It” being an investment of my time or money.

Under Robert’s link to the above rant by Mark, a lot of the conversation centers around what “You just don’t get it” really means and bickering over who ‘gets it.’  It got me thinking about how catch phrases can do a great job in portraying a character’s general attitude toward the world.  Catch phrases are an efficient way to show a lot of inner information and motivation about a character with a few uttered words of dialog.

The “you don’t get it” phrase is condescending and is meant to stop all protests from the receiver.  You can picture the prodigy hacker kid with limited verbal skills screaming it at her parents.  We can see an emo teenager saying it through a cloud of his clove cigarette smoke to a wide-eyed punk wannabe outside the coffee shop.  And let’s not forget the 60’s, where “you just don’t get it” was the tagline for a whole drug-doused generation.

What is your character’s outlook on life?  How can that outlook be condensed into a few words?  For example, an administrative assistant who says “F*ck me” under his breath several times through the course of his day is probably a bit of a pessimist who thinks that fate is out to get him.  “Everybody deserves a second chance” may be the what gets a slightly-delusional injured kicker through the season.

There are several catch phrases from movies that you can adopt or adapt, like “Life is like a box of chocolates: You never know what you’re gonna get.” Forrest Gump repeated his mother’s adage; it shows the flexibility and resiliency inherent in his character. (Warning: Don’t use that one, though, it’s been too done.  You get the idea).

So when you’re thinking about your character’s personality, think about how they’d ‘sum up’ life.  Which common or original phrase you could use to portray that perspective?  (Warning: Don’t let your character use the catchphrase too often, unless it’s “K-Mart Sucks” and his name is Rainman.)  Pepper key scenes in the story with it in dialog or thought.  Bonus points: make up a saying that sounds like it could be a common adage.

Do you have a personal catch phrase?  No?  Ask your spouse or co-workers – they’ll tell you.  Think of ones you may have used in the past and start from there.  Cool beans!  Share your thoughts in the comments.  Thanks!

L8r aggregator.

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One thought on “Wacko Wednesdays: Catch Phrases

  1. I have to say that I agree with Mr. Cuban. This is always my husband’s default response when we get into an argument and he knows I’m right but doesn’t want to admit it–all of a sudden I become the ignoramus who doesn’t get ‘it’ or ‘him’. I like this catch phrase idea for characters, though. I recently finished Richard Russo’s “Straight Man” (which for me, would have been even funnier if it hadn’t been so true!) and the narrator would often make an acerbic observation about himself and then negate it by saying, “but I can play that role.” For instance, on page three: “I’m not a guilt provoker by nature, but I can play that role. …” He does this at least nine times in the book, which makes it a kind of comedy call back, but Russo doesn’t over do it in my opinion. In fact, he stops doing it about half way through the novel, which in a way shows the reader how the character is beginning to change.

    Good topic–as always Christine!

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