Monday, February 19, 2007

Be Careful, by Lonnie Cruse


How often do you hear those familiar words from your friends and/or loved ones? Our family says them to each other practically every single time we part. So much so, that our oldest son—and might I just mention that he’s our most easy-going of the litter—once went ballistic after I said that familiar phrase to him as he picked up his car keys. Within seconds his father entered the room, noticed he was leaving the house, and repeated the phrase to him, in all innocence. Joe instantly demanded to know why we always told him to be careful. Didn’t we know he was a careful driver? (Never mind that the laminate was still warm on his driver’s license.) Did we really think he was going to purposely go out and have an accident? Of course we didn’t, we, um, just wanted him to be careful. Right?

“Be careful” has certainly become a cliché’ over time as friends and loved ones say the words so frequently to each other from habit or on purpose each and every time someone else takes their leave. "Have a safe trip," "drive carefully," "be careful," they all mean the same thing. And if you look deeper, what the person is really saying is: I care about you, and I don’t want anything bad to happen to you. Nice sentiment. But truthfully, we all realize that “be careful” isn’t ever totally under our control, and no matter how skillful we may be at driving, (or whatever else we’re being warned to be careful about) someone else can quickly make an error in judgment that can injure or kill us. Which, of course, is the real concern.

So what’s my point here? Why am I going on about the “c” word? Because in writing a novel, writers are advised (a) not to use cliché’s, and (b) not to repeat themselves whenever possible. Well, I decided to break both rules in my next book in the Metropolis Mystery Series, MALICE IN METROPOLIS, (due out from NaDaC publishing in April) and use the words “be careful” as sort of a punch line as often as I could sneak them in. The twist I used was to begin the book by having my protagonist know he’s being hunted down by a determined killer bent on revenge, so the characters could say the phrase to each other frequently and in all sincerity. Then midway of the book, the suspected killer says the phrase to my hero, and he knows it’s an implied threat. He also knows there is not a thing he can do about it except, well, be careful.

I had a lot of fun dropping those overused words into the manuscript here and there, then formulating each of the recipients’ reactions to the speaker. Of course, I had to try not to overuse the phrase and spark a ballistic reaction in my readers. Snicker.

Thanks for stopping by, and hey . . . be careful out there, will you?


kd said...

Hi Lonnie,
I took the 'be careful' line one step further the first time my oldest son got ready to drive away with my youngest in the car with him. "Be careful, J. Everything important I have in the world is in the car with you tonight."

He said..."Geez, mom. Now I'm afraid to even start the car."

I think "Be Careful" is just another way to say "I love you".

Your kids do tend to get frustrated when they hear in every time they leave the house. Ahhh, but they'll have children of their own one of these days. Then they'll understand.


Julia Buckley said...

I think it's also interesting that "Be Careful" has developed many contexts. It doesn't only mean "I'm concerned about you;" it can also mean "watch it, because I'm watching you," as in "Be careful what you print in that newspaper." And of course it can mean, "Don't be stupid," as in when you're arguing with someone, start to say something, and they say, "Be careful."

Lonnie Cruse said...


Wonderful story about your kids. And as you said, one day they'll have kids. Muwhahahahah!


Yup, the various nuances one can give to those words is wonderful!