It’s happened again. I sat in a rehearsal and heard a line … actually a phrase or set of phrases … that set my brain whirling.
Bear with me, because what follows is my attempt to work out the significance of my brain whirl, but it was the appearance of that little verbal toss-off, you know, the one we use in conversation that indicates our awareness of a listening audience.
And quite often it is literally a placeholder, a way we take a verbal breath within a story to reorient ourselves to what we are saying and check in with our listeners.
FRIEND OF AARON MCKINNEY: At the time I knew him, he was just, he was just a young kid trying to, you know, he just wanted to fit in, you know, acting tough, acting cool, but, you know, you could get in his face about it and he would back down, like he was some kinda scared kid. (33)
Sometimes it appears at the beginning of a thought as a way to assert our confidence in the truth or accuracy of the statement that follows.
SGT HING: […] And us, well, it was a beautiful say, absolutely gorgeous day, real clear and crisp and the sky was that blue that, uh … you know, you’ll never be able to pain, it’s just sky blue–it’s just gorgeous. (8)
REBECCA HILLIKER: You know, I really love my students because they are free thinkers. (11)
ALISON MEARS: Well, there was more land, I mean, you could keep your pet cow. Your horse. Your little chickens. You know, just have your little bit of acreage. (14)
Sometimes it’s interrogatory, asking (demanding?) our listener to take our position or perspective on an issue, implying that if they found themselves in the same situation they would probably do or say (or not do or say) something similar.
SHADOW: And I didn’t think nothin’ of it, you know? I didn’t figure them guys was gonna be like that. (32)
Oftentimes, the interrogatory “you know” is exchanged with “you see,” reinforcing the anatomical character of knowledge. Seeing for one’s self = knowing something for sure. Or, perhaps it’s a basic principle of visualization necessary for verbal communication. “I can imagine what you’re saying, so I can understand what you’re telling me.”
DOC: Matt was a blunt little shit, you know what I’m sayin’? But I like him ’cause he was straightforward, you see what I’m saying? (19)
It can also indicate a desire for confirmation, a signal from our listener that they are with us, that they are listening closely, almost challenging them to take issue with what we have said.
ZUBAIDA: And it’s — how am I supposed to go into the whole doctrine of physical modesty and my own spiritual relationship with the Lord, standing there with my pop and chips? You know what I mean? (26)
BAPTIST MINISTER’S WIFE: He has very biblical views about homosexuality–he doesn’t condone that kind of violence. But he doesn’t condone that kind of lifestyle, you know what I mean? (27)
Other times it gives us an opportunity to show what we mean — to follow a description with a clarifying demonstration or analogy. In these moments we either become or directly invoke the idea or image we are trying to elicit. Our listener now owes us his/her attention because we have put our bodies on the line to make our point explicit.
REGGIE: His head was distorted–you know, it did not look normal–he looked as if he had a real harsh head wound. (36)
ROMAINE: And whenever I think of Matthew, I always thing of his incredible beaming smile. I mean, he’d walk in and he’d be like (demonstrates) you know, and he’d smile at everyone … he’d just make you feel great … (19)
So what, Jules? What do we do with this information? To be honest, I’m not quite sure. I need to reread-rehear the other two acts to see if this invocation of you know appears or strikes me as similarly significant. But, in Act One, in the context of introductions — of the Tectonic company’s “project” to our watching audience, of the Tectonic company to the Laramie citizens, of the Laramie citizens to the company — it seems like a phrase that has a distinct character and a distinct reason for being used by a speaker. Considering its appearance, its purpose might help as you consider what questions your characters are being asked and how comfortable, defiant, uncertain, or awkward they feel their answers might be received by a listener.