• Julie Gray

Why Nuance Matters



Everybody knows that words are powerful. They can create worlds on the pages of a book, they can set nations to war, they can bring peace to millions. They can also confuse your reader.

Make sure that you choose your words carefully, as a writer, the way a surgeon chooses her tools. As a writer you already know that words provide a wealth of nuance, subtext and inferences.

Recently, I saw an interesting and slightly comedic example. A writer I was working with, described a woman lying on her bed, talking on the phone. She was lying, the writer wrote, "spread eagle". Why spread eagle, I asked? What are you inferring here? What? Oh I just meant lying prone. Lying flat.

Well that's not how it read. The description seemed to indicate a possible sexual undertone to the moment, that when pointed out to the writer was absolutely not intentioned to be there.

Part of what editors do is to point things like this out. Why did you describe the blue flash of a police car light at night like waves washing over the scene here, but "like a machine gun" there? That is a big shift of imagery. The writer might reply with, yes, it is because in this moment, the emotionality of the scene called for a sharper metaphor for the lights. Okay, if you as a writer can be conscious of the choice, and back it up, and that really works - great. But sometimes these choices are not really conscious when we write. So an editor helps point these moments out so that there is consistency and/or intentionality in the writing.

If you are being your own editor right now, don't put too much pressure on yourself in the rough draft to make sure every word is chosen perfectly - that's what rewriting is for. But just make sure to be very aware of the sometimes subtle differences of nuance between words or phrases.

#Craft #writingcraft #wordchoices #tipsforwriters

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