Sh*t My Characters Say by Misty Evans

I always enjoy stories in which a character has a certain saying or proverb I’ve never heard before. Maybe the character is Italian or Catholic, has been in prison, or reads the urban dictionary at breakfast. These characters, with their special language and slang, are more real to me and a lot of fun to read. In my books I’ve tried to add this type of element to certain characters to fully engage the reader as well.

My mother is a Southern Belle. Let me add, she’s a Baptist Southern Belle. One of her favorite sayings is, “Lord, have mercy”. It’s like her version of “oh, my god” and she uses it freely in any situation. For example…

Me: Mom, I’m having twins.

Mom (hand flying to her chest): Lord, have mercy!

OR

Me: Mom, the beans are burning on the stove.

Mom (hand flying to her chest): Lord, have mercy!

In some of my stories, I’ve thrown in proverbs and sayings from family and friends. I haven’t found the right character to use that one, but my mother has another saying that drove me up the wall in my youth and works great for my bad witch Amy in the Witches Anonymous series.

Me: I want a pair of Calvin Kline’s like all my friends have.

Mom (rolling her eyes): And people in hell want ice water.

Translation: Good luck with that. We don’t always get what we want.

During college, I once worked a summer job at a chemical factory in the packaging department. One of my friend’s fathers also worked there. He looked at life differently than I did, but his favorite saying, which was a also a piece of advice, has stayed with me until today. I say it to my kids all the time (which they probably hate) and am looking for the right character to use it in a future story.

Me: This job sucks. The rims won’t fit on the cans, the boss keeps pairing me with Mike (eww!) and it’s 104 degrees in here!

Him (shrugging and smiling): You’ll have that sometimes.

Translation: Shit happens, deal with it.

My friend Nana and I were discussing this last week. Her mother (who is Ghanian) always says, “Mark it on the wall!” when someone accomplishes something or something good happens. Except, she says it with a heavy accent, so it sounds like, “mahk eet on dee wahl!”

That got me thinking about the sayings my Russian heroine would have heard from her grandmother growing up while I was writing the fourth super agent book. The proverb, “trust, but verify” came into common American speech during Ronald Reagan’s stint in the White House, but Anya’s grandmother, an old Cold War spy, changes it in my story to, “Don’t trust. Verify.” Anya hears her grandmother’s advice in her head several times during the story.

And when I was writing the violent climax scene, all I heard in my head was, “Lord, have mercy!”

Readers: do you have a favorite saying or proverb? Have you passed down any from your parents or grandparents to your kids?

About Misty Evans

USA Today Bestselling Author Misty Evans writes the award-winning Super Agent series, as well as urban fantasy and paranormal romance. She likes her coffee black, her conspiracy theories juicy, and her wicked characters dressed in couture. When her muse lets her on the internet to play, she’s on Facebook and Twitter.
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23 Responses to Sh*t My Characters Say by Misty Evans

  1. We have plenty of great sayings! And some fabulous ones from South Africa, where I grew up, which aren’t in English.

    And I love enriching my dialogue with things like this, it makes the characters real. I recently wrote an historical set in the Regency era, and a lot of my characters are from the lower classes. I had the most fantastic cant dictionary (not upper class cant, but real street cant) and I had to really be strict with myself not to use to much of it, because while I was totally steeped in it and understanding it, my readers won’t be in the same position. I spent many happy hours reading that dictionary. :)
    Michelle Diener`s last blog was …In a Treacherous Court Cover finals in the Judge A Book By Its Cover Contest

    • Misty Evans says:

      Michelle, that is so fun! Your passion for using the right language to suit your characters and timeline is obvious. I’d love to hear more about your South African slang, too!

      I love slang dictionaries and can get lost for hours in them, and one of my favorite types of research is to hunt down people who actually speak the slang. In my Kali Sweet series, one of the characters uses a lot of surfer slang and I had to learn all about the differences between California surfers, Florida surfers, Hawaiian surfers and more. Language is an amazing thing and I can never get enough of it! Enjoy that dictionary!
      Misty Evans`s last blog was …Hello world!

  2. Edie Ramer says:

    Misty, what a great post! My son has a saying, “It’s all good.” I’ve had characters say that, but not too often. (Stopping to clean up after a puking cat. “It’s all good” is NOT what I’m thinking.)

    Back now. I’m definitely going to think of sayings for my characters. I’m meeting writer friends for lunch and will try to collect some. That will be fun. (Could “that will be fun” be a saying? I say that a lot..)

    This is going to be my obsession for the week. lol

    • Misty Evans says:

      We used to say, “It’s all good.” around here, even when it wasn’t ALL good. LOL. And I have a friend who always says, “It is what it is.” Similar, I think, in meaning. We can handle whatever happens.

      I hope you enjoy your lunch today and glean many great sayings!
      Misty Evans`s last blog was …Hello world!

  3. I love using this technique to build character especially for secondary ones. In my recent book An Island No More, I have my heroine’s best friend use the expression “Holy Sock!” when it’s most appropriate. Each time I used it I thought of a dear friend of mine who sprinkled it throughout her speech in a delightful manner. Then I’d offer up a short prayer as she tragically died in a horrific car accident and never lived to read this book.

    Great examples. I especially loved “Don’t trust. Verify.” :-)
    Casey Clifford`s last blog was …A Genie On My Mind

  4. Misty Evans says:

    Holy Sock! I love it! Casey, what a wonderful way to keep your friend in your heart and memory. :smile:
    Misty Evans`s last blog was …Hello world!

  5. Misty, the ethnic mix of being raised first gen. in Brooklyn, living and working in Manhattan, spending summers in small towns, two years on the Jersey Shore, odd other wonderful places in cluding what Floridians call “New York South” … I have saved a wonderful cache of expressions, great body language and can say something nice or not so nice in five languages. I love the sh$t my characters say :)
    florence fois`s last blog was …Let’s Play a Game …

  6. Dale Mayer says:

    Hi Misty,

    Love the blog! I don’t dare find a cant dictionary (love that term) I’d be lost forever. I love cool words as it is.
    Unfortunately, I do find ‘Crap!’ showing up way to often in my work. I think it’s my writer mentality inserting itself based on whatever is going on in MY world instead of the characters though. Lol.

    Then again, my characters let fly whatever is on their minds too! :)
    Dale Mayer`s last blog was …2 books up for free for the 22nd and the 23rd of February!!

  7. Misty Evans says:

    Dale, your characters always hit the right note with their dialogue and actions, so whatever channeling you’re doing from real life to fiction is working!
    Misty Evans`s last blog was …Hello world!

  8. Brenda Hyde says:

    We have so many catch phrases at our house— the one I say that bugs my daughter to no end is what I say when she stubs her toe, trips or anything where she bumps something which is ALL the time. “Just rub it and it will feel better.” LOL

    My sons who are 17 and 18 say things like “Why you mad, bro?” Which can be shortened to “Mad, bro?” They say this to me all the time, and I point out that I am not a “bro”.

    I remember my mom always saying “Well, if (fill in name) jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?” I heard that a lot when asking why I couldn’t do or buy something. LOL
    Brenda Hyde`s last blog was …The Harvest Moon Gazette

    • Misty Evans says:

      Brenda, when I was little and would stub my toe, my dad would say, “Do that again so I can see it.” Steam would come out my ears!

      My boys say the ‘bro’ thing too to each other. And “was up?” They also call me Dude on occasion. I usually don’t answer. LOL.

      Thanks for stopping by!
      Misty Evans`s last blog was …Hello world!

  9. Amy Remus says:

    I love it when chracters have catch phrases in books. I have some sayings that are lame that were passed down from family and I kick myself for saying them when they come out. For me the sad thing is that I am becoming “that parent” that says things her kids say when she cleary should not. I catch myself saying “Whatevs” and almost replied to a tweet the other day with “Woot! Woot!” but realized I am 35 and should probably not respond like I am in elementary school. I need to pick up some cool sayings though. I admit I have used some lines from books I have read on my husband without him knowing they didn’t come from me. :)

  10. “There’s no such thing as free lunches.” Things my father said, translated to, you always pay for free one way or another.
    Karin* Tabke aka Harlow!`s last blog was …CAPA Winner!

    • Misty Evans says:

      Karin, I had an Economics teacher that said that all the time and I say it to my kids, too, because it’s so true!

      And I had another teacher who quoted the bible. I was always jumping out of my chair when the bell rang and not waiting for him to dismiss us, so he would make me stay after class and tell me, “The last shall be first and the first shall be last.” :roll:
      Misty Evans`s last blog was …Hello world!

  11. “And people in hell want ice water.” :)
    Misty, how funny!! I was just talking with my Texan friend this morning and, wow, does she have a lot of great Southern sayings… I love them! The frequent “Bless her heart” retorts are some of my favorites, LOL, and the really inventive use of description (“slower than a herd of snails traveling through mud…”).
    Marilyn Brant`s last blog was …Are You Pinteresting?

  12. Liz Kreger says:

    What a fun blog, Misty. Reading over the comments brought a couple of smiles.

    Hmmm, let’s see. My daughter gives me the “dude” title. Did it once with her father and got told off. Me? Don’t mind it at all. Personally, I think it’s funny. When I lived in Australia for a year I picked up terms like “Good on ya”, “No worries”. After more than 20 years, I still use them. However, I don’t use them in my writing. Perhaps I should. Would probably make it more fun. ;-)

  13. I had this backfire on me… in one of my books the heroines says fanfreakingtastic and man, it annoyed people! I went through and deleted a lot of them. She only says it now like 4 times but I’ve still had one or two people complain! Interesting how things work sometimes and don’t other times.

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