You wrote the book of your heart, the novel that you dreamed about writing since you were ten. You know the one. The manuscript that poured out of your soul onto the page like it was dictated by God. Your family and your critique partners said it was the best book they ever read. You even placed in a few contests. So, you published that baby knowing that once the world fell in love with it, too, Oprah would select your novel for her reading club.
Reader reviews say the characters are dull and unlikeable, the story lacks depth and dramatic tension, and the writing fails to jump off the page and engage the reader.
So, babe, how do you feel? Angry? Irritated? Enraged? Incensed? Annoyed? Galled? Pissed? Infuriated? Vexed?
Maybe you’re disappointed? Baffled? Failed? Dumbfounded? Frustrated? Disillusioned? Puzzled? Thwarted?
Perhaps you’re distraught? Heartbroken? Anguished? Sad? Crushed? Despondent? Miserable? Depressed?
Actually, you could be any one (or more) of those. However, if you’re telling someone this story in an email or on a rant site on the Internet, your reader won’t comprehend exactly how you feel unless you pick the right words to convey the right image to invoke the right emotion.
This takes more than a spin through a thesaurus. It takes understanding that words may have similar meanings and yet different intensities.
Words have shades of meaning.
Think about the first set of emotions: irritated, annoyed, galled, vexed, incensed, pissed, infuriated, and enraged. They’re all synonyms for angry but–more importantly–they’re shades of angry. Think about it. Although we all have the basic feelings of happiness, anger, sadness, or fear, we actually feel different mixtures of these emotions at one time or another.
If you’re upset about reader reviews, saying you’re simply angry doesn’t tell the whole story, does it?
Angered by the review, Annie vowed to show those “stupid readers” who they were dealing with.
A basic statement of fact, but the reader has no real idea how Annie feels.
Irritated by the review, Annie vowed to show those “stupid readers” who they were dealing with.
This is not her first bad review, and she’s getting a bit discouraged.
Annoyed by the review, Annie vowed to show those “stupid readers” who they were dealing with.
This is her twelfth bad review, and she’s wondering what the problem is.
Galled by the review, Annie vowed to show those “stupid readers” who they were dealing with.
She’s wondering if should reply to one of the readers and point out two grammar errors in his comments.
Vexed by the review, Annie vowed to show those “stupid readers” who they were dealing with.
She’s wondering if she should ask Amazon to delete a few of those nasty reviews.
Incensed by the review, Annie vowed to show those “stupid readers” who they were dealing with.
She’s wondering if she should troll Facebook to find each nasty reviewer.
Pissed by the review, Annie vowed to show those “stupid readers” who they were dealing with.
She names the nasty readers on her Facebook page.
Infuriated by the review, Annie vowed to show those “stupid readers” who they were dealing with.
She actually creates a Facebook page called “Writers that Hate Stupid Readers.”
Enraged by the rejection, Annie vowed to show those “stupid readers” who they were dealing with.
She actually sends nasty emails to all less-than-five-star reviewers.
Think Paint Chips
One way to grasp shades of meaning is to think about the cards paint manufacturers provide that show the range of related paint colors.
Consider the next set of emotions we talked about earlier: baffled, failed, dumbfounded, frustrated, disillusioned, puzzled, and thwarted. These synonyms describe disappointed. Let’s put them in order from the weakest to the strongest, i.e., their shades of meaning:
Enough with emotions. What about another noun, like problem? Synonyms for problem include difficulty, trouble, dilemma, obstacle, quandary, uncertainty, and issue. Let’s order them from weakest to strongest:
Okay, let’s try an action, like pretend. Synonyms for pretend include fool, feign, dupe, bluff, masquerade, deceive, and simulate. Ready to sort weakest to strongest? Go!
Organize the words based on your background and experience.
This exercise helps you understand and appreciate how various shades of words can help you choose the right one for the right image to convey the right fiction picture to your reader.
Note to historical writers: You have the added challenge of using words that are time-period appropriate but not so obscure your reader gets confused and lost.
Every word matters.
Every word carries a measure of meaning. Shades of meaning are subtle differences that can dramatically change how your reader perceives your writing and how your story is received.