Nuance gives interactions depth. The change of tone, the raised eyebrow, the subtle shift in posture—all of them indicate attitude and feeling. It's what makes story interesting, movies gripping, and real life easier to interpret. Without nuance, face to face interactions lack a certain emotion that we depend on to understand what's really going on. Even stranger to stranger interaction has subtle nuance, whether discomfort, disinterest, or delight.

Nuance differs from person to person, but some things are universal. Do you look up to the sun with your eyes closed when you go outside? Are you constantly picking at things with your fingers? Do you lean in when you're listening, cross your arms when you're upset, yawn when you're bored? Subtleties help us process interactions—without them we can't tell what the other person is thinking, unless they come straight out and say it. Was he leaning out because he wasn't listening? Why didn't she nod? What is all the yawning about?

In the same way, writing nuance into your story clues your readers into what's really going on, and triggers the imagination to help tell the story and fill in the tiny missing pieces. Without nuance tips, we won't know the tone of the story.

How do you write nuance into a story?

#) Understand what nuance is. You can't write it unless you understand it. Fortunately, it's an easy thing to learn. Eighty-five percent of social interactions that you witness are full of nuance—and once you start looking for it, it's everywhere.

#) Read for it. Find popular writers (both current and classic) and read their work. Do they use nuance well? Poorly? At all? 

#) Practice. This is the dead horse that I'll flog forever, when it comes to writing. The only way to get better is to practice, even when you don't feel like it, even when you have nothing to say. Look at the objects on your desk and write a story about them having a conversation. If your desk is empty use your shoes. If you're not wearing shoes, write it about the wall and the paint. If you write in a gazebo, maybe you're in a public park and there will be people walking by... You get the picture.

Nuance is invaluable to writers. Perfect the art.

Build It

Building requires work and planning.

Building a building takes an architect, and blueprints, and construction teams, and hundreds of other things that I don't know about, because I wear glasses and use a computer keyboard, instead of a hardhat and a shovel.

Making a cake takes a recipe (or some plan, at least), ingredients, an oven, and some previous knowledge about baking (don't put the egg shells in, mix it enough or not too much).

Building a relationship takes time, and energy, and sacrifice. Friends don't become friends overnight, and once they get there it's still work. 

Making a story means creating characters, formulating plot, setting the stage. It doesn't happen without a fair amount of thinking and planning.

Sports teams don't become champions overnight, an ice rink doesn't freeze in one minute, Rome wasn't built in a day.

Putting the work into building something is worth it. It is an accomplishment, and achievement, an exercise of will. Sometimes there is a reward for completion, but often, finishing is its own reward. It is the ability to step back and say, "I made this," and to recognize that perceived value aside, it is good because you made it.

Build with the value of the finished product in mind. It's worth it.

Sign Your Work

Everybody likes anonymous surveys. There is all of the freedom of expressing opinion, and none of the burden of disagreement. It lets you say what you think without giving a reason. Great, right?

Maybe not. Maybe it's a good thing to take responsibility for your thoughts and ideas, and to stand for something. Signing your work means setting aside your fear of argument, your fear of being made fun of, your fear of being judged in the future.

Why are we afraid? We're afraid of what people think of us, because even though we're not in elementary school anymore, the pressure of fitting in is weighty. We're afraid of what our bosses will think, our colleagues, our friends, our mom or grandma. We've been conditioned to think that it's admirable not to stand for anything, because then we're giving everyone a fair shot at happiness.

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Hard Work Ain't Easy

It's easy to conceptualize that creating something is a good idea, but when the rubber meets the road and the tires are flat, all we can see is disaster. By nature, we'll always take the easy way out—not necessarily because we're lazy, but because hard work is... well, hard. At the end of the day, however, the easy way out provides an astonishingly low level of satisfaction: nothing accomplished, nothing won, a day spent with nothing to show for it. That's a lot of nothing. Working towards something that matters, even though it sometimes feels worthless and excruciatingly painful (don't keep your leg in the bear trap you didn't see just to finish hunting, though), has benefits that long outlast putzing around, doing nothing but breathing and swallowing. You created. You worked. You know something now that you didn't know before. And you have something to show for it...

It feels a lot better to say, "Here, I made this," than to say, "Well, the garbage truck came at 9, the mail came at 11, the clock fell off the wall at 2:45, and now I'm hungry for dinner. What is it?"

Don't be afraid to do the work it takes to make something that matters.

A Case for Sunday Dinner

Every week, my grandma hosts Sunday lunch (dinner, not supper). All the aunts and uncles and cousins are there, and Grandma makes a pot roast or chicken, with all the fixings, plenty of them.The scent drifts down the hallway to the garage, and in the kitchen the smell mingles with hustle and bustle. Someone is always talking, there's food set out on the kitchen table ready for the dining room, and small grandchildren run about with toys in hand. The kitchen is the hub, the boys lay around in the living room, and Grandpa dozes on the couch waiting for lunch. A granddaughter bangs keys on the piano; none related, no melody. Just glee. When dinner is steaming on the long seasonal tablecloth in the dining room, grandma calls everyone in. Each sits in his or her own chair, the same for years. After Grandpa prays, dishes fly. Within twenty minutes everyone is done eating, the little ones are roaming, and the boys are asking for dessert. Grandma always has it, plenty for everyone.

It is the quintessential Sunday dinner; hubbub, food, community, generations, noise and confusion. It is tradition, Sunday Dinner—but no one is there for the food. If it was, everyone would make their own meal and stay home. It's for the experience. The togetherness, community, hubbub, and all the week's fresh talk.

Grandma changes the food week by week. If she didn't, after weeks of the same meal (even though no one really comes for the food), everyone would be sick of it. Sunday dinner isn't about the food—but it does matter.

Technically, writing isn't about the fixings—but the fixings do matter.

If Grandma had everyone over and said there was no meal prepared, the mood would turn sour fast (behind the polite "Oh-it-doesn't-matter"s. Even if something isn't actually necessary, we notice (and experience varying levels of displeasure) when it's missing.

You can write a story without creativity; it's the bare bones and basics of what happened, like a bullet point list. Or, you can write a story with all the excellence of careful craftsmanship. The details of the story won't change—but the reader's enjoyment will be far greater.

Everyone wants to read a well written story, even and balanced. The details without the colors are monotonous; the colors without the details are frivolous.

Write colors into your details, like a good Sunday Dinner. Your readers will thank you.


What colors do you write with?

Worth Saying Well

"It’s a unique way to process transactions between riders and drivers." This is an eleven word sentence that has absolutely no clear meaning. It could be referring to a "fee of a handshake" that might be imposed on the city buses. Or a new payment system in taxis that enables you to pay with something besides commonly accepted currency—like a five gallon can of gasoline, or a gift card. Maybe it's referring to a dated method of transportation (like horse-drawn carriages) coming back into vogue.

Because there is no defining language, it's almost impossible to judge what the sentence means. If you're going to write stand alone sentences, try to make them crystal clear—not clear as mud. It only takes a word or two more, and sometimes it even cuts the word count:

"Shaking hands to pay for city busses makes riders trust drivers more." (12 words)

"Taxi drivers love the new 'pay with a gallon' method of payment; full gas cans and gift cards accepted." (19 words)

"Horse and buggy travel is more relational than public transportation." (10 words)

It's not a burden to make your language clear and easy to understand; it just takes a little more thought and intentionality. If you're reading something that makes no sense, and has minimal explanation, two tricks to figure it out:

#) Look at the context. Even if a sentence seems to be derailed from any contextual meaning, at least it will give you some clue about what the author is talking about in general.

#) Ask for explanation. Perhaps you're lucky enough to have a communicating relationship with the author; if not, ask other people. Sometimes a second or third pair of eyes can see what the first might have missed.

It's not hard to avoid this by writing clearly. If it's worth saying, it's worth saying well.