Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Pardon Me, Your Frame of Reference is Showing

by Sara Rosett

We are a pop culture society. Taglines from movies and song lyrics are a national shorthand that we share, but pop culture references can be tricky to work with in fiction. They can reveal character, but they can also be the discordant note that makes a character not ring true, if the frame of reference is off.

Ellie Avery, my protagonist, is younger than me (not that much younger!) but still, a few years can make quite a bit of difference in your frame of reference.

I’m careful about allusions to pop culture, but it’s easy to slip up and write a scene with a reference to a song, TV show, or snippet of movie dialogue that Ellie Avery wouldn’t have a clue about. In Magnolias, Moonlight, and Murder I have references to My Girl Friday, Friends, and Who Let the Dogs Out?

Of course, we writers do have some cover on the pop culture front because of TV Land and other networks that rely heavily on classic shows to fill their hours of broadcast time. Thank goodness old shows are recycled, bringing old favorites like Star Trek (the original), M*A*S*H*, Gilligan's Island, and Laverne and Shirley to generation after generation.

Here’s a few phrases that have become so imbedded in our language that they’re now part of our lexicon:
  • May the force be with you.
  • Go ahead, make my day.
  • It’s not a tumor.
  • I reject your reality and substitue my own.
  • Have fun stormin’ the castle.
  • He-could-go-all-the-way!
  • Talk to me, Goose.
  • To infinity and beyond!
  • Make it work, people. Make it work. 
  • How you doin’?
  • I love it when a plan comes together.
  • I’m giving her all she’s got/Damnit, Jim, I’m a doctor, not a ____.
How many can you identify? What lines from movies and songs are part of your vocabulary?

Sara Rosett is the author of the Ellie Avery mystery series, an adult “whodunit” mystery series in the tradition of Agatha Christie. Publishers Weekly has called Sara’s books, “satisfying,” “well-executed,” and “sparkling.”
Visit http://www.SaraRosett.com for more information or connect with Sara on Facebook, Twitter, or Goodreads.


  1. Great post!

    Some of my favorites?

    "My biological clock is ticking."
    "I ain't no fountain of justice."
    "Smell the glove."
    "God loves a terrier."
    "Badges? We don't need no stinkin' badges."
    "Beam me up, Scottie."
    "Book it, Starsky."
    "We're more of the love, blood, and rhetoric school."
    "Chum some of this shit."
    "We're gonna need a bigger boat."

  2. Love this! Ed always says to me, "Have fun storming the castle," before he leaves for work in the mornings! And we do a lot of the, "I'm a doctor, Jim, not a ______!" around here. And "talk to me, Goose." You know, I don't see what's wrong with using some pop culture references in your work. It's a frame of reference historically. I kind of like them, as a matter of fact, if they're not overused. Anyway, fun post today, Sara! Thanks for the chuckles.

  3. The bigger boat line is a classic, Sandra!

    I like them, too, Susan. I just want to make sure I don't have them out of context. I'm always thinking, "Would this character know this song/movie/TV show?"

  4. I bet I've slipped in references to Gilligan's Island without realizing, that show is such a frame of reference for me, no problem someone in that cast can't solve. I date myself...

  5. I hear you, Cindy. Thank goodness for reruns!

  6. Such a fun post, Sara! My husband and I are always quoting things from "The Freshman," "Groundhog's Day" and "When Harry Met Sally."
    "You're right, you're right, I know you're right..." :)