Nuance

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.

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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. But maybe drifting like the wind isn’t happiness—and standing for something isn’t belligerent.

Signing your work means that you understand what you’ve made, and you’re proud of it. It is willingness to take responsibility, because you are an adult and taking responsibility for your actions is a very adult thing to do. Signing your work means admitting that you created it, you stand by it, and you are pleased with it.

Make something amazing, and sign it. It’s a favor you owe yourself.

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.

Why You Should Share Secrets

Starting a story at the back end is a fad in novels right now. Some authors like it because they can keep all their cards hidden until the last chapter, where they flash them in a shower of color and go out in a blaze of glory.

Writing a story from the back assumes a lot of your reader. It assumes that you are a good enough writer that your reader won’t mind being kept in the dark. It assumes that you have a plan, and that you’re not just stringing your reader along until you come up with something. It assumes you won’t hold their ignorance over the heads of your readers. It assumes that you can create enough suspense in the first ten pages of your novel to draw them back, even though you’re carefully keeping them from intentional connection.

Writing a story from the back makes a reader feel ignorant. It’s a dangerous game. People who read on their own time aren’t obligated to keep picking your book up—it’s even less likely that they will if it feels belittling.

Plan carefully before you write a story that leaves your reader in the dark. If you do, be sure to give them little secrets to string them along and make them feel like part of the process.

They’ll appreciate you more—and tell other people about you.

How to Be a Better Storyteller

A bad storyteller could tell a crowd the most exciting news piece of the year (the breaking of a 108 ‘curse,’ for instance), and put his audience to sleep. A good storyteller could talk about a trip to buy a package of napkins, and hold his audience’s rapt attention.

It isn’t the story that makes the story good, worth reading, interesting; it’s the storyteller. When he starts to tell a story, he resumes the responsibility to guide, to entertain, to make the audience feel like they didn’t waste their time.

In light of that responsibility, how do you become a better storyteller?

#) Practice. It’s the number one advice for getting better at everything. You don’t get better unless you try. Trying takes time. Practice telling your story—develop your craft. Try different words different places, use bold expressions, make dramatic story-telling moves that you’re scared of. Tell your story in the mirror. Tell it to your mom (and then someone who loves you a little less, for more critical feedback), tell it in the dark, tell it to the flock of birds at the pond. The more you do it, the better you’ll be.

#) Watch/read/listen to other people. It’s hard to develop a craft well in complete solitude. The lucky thing about developing your art is that sharing is allowed. If someone else does something that you admire, that’s completely brilliant, try it. Tweak it, change it, make it yours, but don’t be afraid to grow by imitation. Other people come up with amazing strategies. Using them isn’t wrong—it’s like adding a tool to your tool-chest.

#) Say what matters. In this busy, flustered, over-worked and under-rested society, people only want to listen to things that matter to them. If they don’t see any reason to listen to what you’re saying, they won’t listen. Think about what people want to hear, think about what matters to them. They want to hear virtue, kindness, human triumph through herculean struggle. They want to hear stories that make them cry, or roar with laughter, stories that end with a warm feeling all over, or the bright resolve to be a change in the world, to make a difference.

#) Pay attention to your audience. If they’re not paying attention, or you’re not getting any feedback, if 7 of the 12 people are sleeping, maybe it’s time to reconsider how you’re telling your story, and change things up.

Being a storyteller is a privilege; being a good storyteller is a gift. Appreciate the privilege and the gift, and do your best to be better. The world could use more of those people (us).