Sep 27
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Details: Concrete vs. Abstract

We want our writing to feel genuine, and to connect with our readers to the point where they can visualize our words in their heads. A great way to learn to connect to readers through writing is by understanding the difference between concrete and abstract details. A concrete detail or image will help engage your readers by getting them to create a visual picture of your writing in their own minds.

Concrete vs Abstract. A concrete detail/image is one that is grounded in a tangible idea, example and/or description; a concrete detail is sometimes referred to as a specific detail and often it is also a sensory detail. An abstract detail/image has language and examples that are conceptual and have multiple interpretations. 
        Concrete: The plant just barely brushed the bottom of my knee; its flower was broad as my face, and its stem as thick as my pinky. 
        Abstract: The plant was tall, it's stem was thick, and the flower had a beauty that reminded me of love. 

The concrete example is easy for the reader to visualize, and offers more information for them to grab onto. The abstract example provides less information, and is slightly vague. A beauty like love? What is a beauty like love?

The concrete example brings the reader into the story by providing them with relatable, tangible, and genuine imagery that engages them. In narrative writing, in poetry, journalism — you name it — concrete and specific details will make your reader want to read. Plus, they will remember what you wrote, because your language was so unique. Using what you think is the right a mix of concrete and abstract details will help you develop your writing voice. By understand the difference between the two, you can vary the sentences you write, and make educated choices about what details you want to use and when. 

Here is an example of a poem from the Young Writers Project that exercises a great blend of concrete and abstract language:

by Xii2

I saw a man once getting out of bed, pulling back his rumpled covers and dragging himself into the bathroom, stepping into the shower of his one bedroom apartment
imagine his childhood tub with water beaded on its yellow-stained sides
He showers quickly, lathering his balding hair with watermelon shampoo
Turning the water off, he dodges the last ice-cold drips and wraps a towel around his middle
Wiping the fog off of the mirror he flexes at it
I am God
Then rubs away the droplets running down his legs with his towel
blue terrycloth
pulls on a fresh pair of boxers
then his old suit
He grabs a cup of coffee on his way out the door and boards the New York subway.
Every seat is taken so he stands and holds the yellow-painted rail
the million other jostling riders seethe around him -
- Pushing into him
- elbowing the soft parts of him
not knowing he is god
Because he isn't.

[Photo Credit: YWP Photo Library, photo by Mythicalquill - YWP User]
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