Thursday, November 10, 2011

Nuances and Meanings

Annette M. Irby
Do you love words? I do. Since I started writing, I’ve begun to think differently. How about you? In everyday conversations do you challenge yourself to come up with just the right way to say something? Just the right word? Or while you’re reading a book, do you ever run across places where the author probably meant one thing, but the words on the page convey something else entirely? As writers we have to think about these things. And I’m guessing you now do it automatically. I know I do. 

It’s not enough to know the homonyms or grammar we’ve discussed here on SW. It’s not enough to know writing craft. We writers have to go beyond that and address the nuances of words, their shades of meaning, including how our culture sees those words, what our readers are expecting, and what we really mean. 

Here’s a list of helpful questions to ask yourself:

What am I trying to say? The great thing here is you can take symbolism into account as well. But as you’re writing ask yourself: what am I trying to say, about my characters, about the scenario they’re in, about the emotion I’m trying to convey? Use words as tools to get there. Take your time, if necessary. Dig deep. 

How does this read? Once you’re ready for the editing phase, go back and re-read what you’ve written, but try to be as objective as possible. Ask yourself: how does this come across? what will people think as they read this? Take into account the clues, the symbols you’ve already used, the story as it’s progressing thus far. Take nuance into account. Consider the various meanings of the words you’ve chosen. Rework as necessary.

Is this effective? As you re-read, ask yourself if the passage is effectively communicating what you want to say. I’ve run across some bizarre phrases that completely missed what the writer was going for. I’ve written some crazy passages that connoted something entirely different than what I originally meant. Rewriting is the phase to catch those and rework them. Critique groups are great for this. Oh, the chuckles!

By following these rules, you’re practicing being a wordsmith—crafting words together to specifically build your story. And as you do so, don’t forget about nuances!

Learn more about Annette and her books and/or editing services at her website.


  1. Unfortunately, I've found that as I get older the "right" word becomes more and more ... what's the word ... rare, hard-to-find, hidden. Thank goodness for the thesaurus!

  2. Wonderful post, Annette. What we pen can sound so "right" in our own heads. But it's important that it's clear for our readers. And yes ... the chuckles in those critique meetings when we realize what we've REALLY conveyed. ;-D

  3. Angie, I have the same problem. And sometimes even my Flip dictionary can't help me. ;) But isn't it satisfying to nail down just the right word? :)

  4. Thanks, Dawn. I can recall a few times. Still laughing... ;)


We'd love to hear your thoughts! Please leave comments. We'll moderate and post them!