Concrete versus Abstract

I think for today, this topic works best by example.

Abstract:

I was careful with my new body, timid, where I once was brave, and careful, where I once was daring. I always feared what was to come because I knew what was coming before it was here.

I know. Not my best work. But it’s really difficult to write in abstracts. Maybe this isn’t the best example, but you’ll get the picture. Prose can also be much better than this. (Or poetry.)

Concrete:

“Holes and crags that I climbed along and leaped in my first life, to my more conservative elder brain suddenly seemed places of danger, and I wore my child’s body as an old woman might wear a skinny bikini bought for her by a fragile friend” (North 10).

What’s the difference?

If you don’t see it, read my next I’m-sorry-this-couldn’t-be-better example.

Abstract-2:

You take a bite of the fruit and continue to eat, the taste reminding you of sweet beginnings, a continuous loop of life that keeps going and going, an endless repetition until it finally comes to an end at the center – the single finale that reminds you of the contrast of new and old, birth and death and back again. Always bitter and sweet. Never too much of one side but a balance in the middle.

Concrete-2:

It reminds you of a grape, except this fruit is of the larger variety, always covered in a skin of orange and red, swirling together in a constant mirage of sunset that feels like the fuzz on your face if you were still a baby or hadn’t yet experienced puberty. The perfect ending to the perfect meal – a peach.

Not the best of examples, but bear with me. What do you notice?

It should be that abstract always outlines abstract concepts – things that are more akin to thoughts and feelings, not really defined as a hard image, taste, smell, or sound. Abstract concepts are thoughts or ideas and are usually the most difficult things to convey, where as concrete examples are easy to define. When I say a peach, you think of the fruit. It’s a concrete example. Easy to paint a picture with color, taste, feeling, and smell although I can’t even begin to comprehend how to describe that.

Because abstract concepts are so difficult to communicate, they need concrete images to attach to, which is why abstract things are hard to write. They’re just as hard to read. Even while writing it, I couldn’t help but include concrete images: bite or loop, even birth and death to an extend.

Even if I was talking about “birth” and “death,” by relating it to a fruit, I’ve made it more definable. Just as North did the character’s loss of innocence. I’ve just turned a phrase into an image, making it more relatable to the readers.

This is a good trick on how to talk about big ideas – metaphors, images.

North, Claire. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August. New York, NY: Redhook Books, 2014. Print.

Edit on 11/16:

Mixed example of concrete and abstract descriptions by BJ Neblett – You take a bite of life and continue to eat, the skin sweet and tangy all at once. Crunching into the meat you find it difficult at first, soon learning the subtle nuances of the texture, the run of the grain. Savoring as much as possible, you can feel the juice seep from the corners of your mouth. Finally, with great expectation, you reach the center and find a hard sour pit. Disappointed at first, you realize from this core will spring new life.

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