Thursday, May 31, 2012

Nuance: Are You Really Saying What You Mean?

Do you consider the nuance behind the words you use? Or even the phrases? For the sake of communication and clarity, this is such a key element in our writing.  

“Nuance,” in the context of words, refers to shades of meaning. For example, do you want to use the word “truly” or “really”? “Really” implies “very,” so if you said “really sunny weather” you might mean “very sunny weather.” “Truly” implies “honestly.” So, if you said “truly sunny weather” you probably mean “the sun is actually, literally shining.” See the difference? Which one do you mean to say? 

Recently I titled a blog post: The Love of a Mother. Now, tighter writing would mean deleting the prepositional phrase: A Mother's Love. But that has a different meaning. I wanted the title to be more general, not as specific. I felt the second title might come across as referring to a specific mom, and I didn't want that. See the difference? Brings up another point, if your editor wants you to write tight and you lose the nuance you meant, please let him/her know. Share your reasoning. Editors want to help authors communicate what s/he meant to communicate. We desire clarity. And we're watching for your nuances.

So, we need to analyze our word choices and phrases so we’re sure we’re actually saying what we mean to say. (or that our characters are)

Nuance can get you into trouble when your words might mean something a bit more, shall we say, embarrassing? Have you ever ran your sweaty palms over your jeans? Let’s say your character needs to do that. Be careful how you word it. Having her shove her hands “down” her jeans is probably not what you mean to say. See what I mean? (I’ve had to rewrite a similar line in my own work, so I’m telling on myself here, but hopefully you get what I’m saying.)

I think Christian romance writers must especially concern themselves with nuance. Look at your phrases. If a non-believer could find implications you didn’t intend, rework them. That’s the way it goes in our culture. Many TV sitcoms make a habit (and train our minds to do the same) out of insinuation and innuendo that isn’t God-honoring. I can think of a specific 70’s show of three co-ed roommates that did this endlessly.

So, watch for nuances in specific words you’re using and also in your phrases.

Your turn. Can you think of any examples? Have you ever had a critique partner point out a phrase you’d written that could be taken the wrong way? Did you rewrite it? We’ve had some great laughs at our critique group over one-liners the writer never intended. How about you?


  1. I find the english-american translation the hardest. For example pants in the US are trousers in the UK. Pants are underwear. Suspenders are braces in the US and the little bits of lace a woman holds stockings up with in the UK. So a US author who describes the hero holding his pants up with suspenders causes a Brit to laugh herself silly.
    on the other hand a heroine who can quite safely in the UK pick a rubber up off her desk at work and throw it across the room at someone, can't do that in the US. And before you ask - a rubber is something you use to rub out mistakes with - an eraser.
    See what I mean?

  2. Clare, I know what you mean. I've seen the same thing where toilets are concerned. That humorous phrase sounded like someone dove in, not at all what the writer meant to say. Good thing we have critique groups and editors. :) Helpful, too, when someone is familiar with both cultures and can explain.

  3. What a great post, Annette. Sometimes we use shorthand assuming everyone knows what we mean, but that can get us in trouble! At a writers conference a couple weekends ago, one of the editors said the number one thing he looks for in a manuscript is clarity. Pretty important!

  4. Thanks, Ocieanna. Clarity matters so much, and it's overlooked more often than people think. Not just in nuances, either, but in painting scenes and describing action, etc. Great point!


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