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What is an Abstraction in Creative Writing?

Creative writing is a form of literature that allows for the free expression of thoughts and ideas. While some people may perceive it as an easy A-Level, the subject matter can be quite complex. Many students may be tempted to dive in head first without putting in the necessary effort, resulting in poor grades and a lot of wasted time. The aim of this post is to explain the fundamental difference between ‘concrete’ and ‘abstract’ writing, as well as how to effectively navigate the complex thicket of literary terms that are often used in connection with creative writing.

The Dangers of Abstraction

Abstraction is one of the most important tools a writer has. It allows the author to divorce themselves from reality in order to create worlds and characters that are more easily digestible by the reader.

The danger in abstraction is that the writer may lose touch with reality. If the work is to be taken seriously, then the writer must be able to show how their characters and worlds are grounded in a realistic manner. While it is important to experiment with different techniques and scenes in order to develop your writing skills, it is also essential that your work is rooted in some kind of reality. In order to guard against this, every word and action must have a purpose and must serve to further the plot or develop the characters.

This is why it is always better to go for a walk rather than read a book set in a fictional world. Although you may escape into the fiction for a while, you will inevitably come back to reality when you least expect it. Even the greatest literary works rely heavily on a solid base of reality in order to work. If the author is unable to ground their creative writing in a realistic manner, then we are entitled to be skeptical about their ability to tell an engaging story.

Realism & Authenticity

There is a difference between being realistic and being factual. You may choose to write an entirely fictional story (usually referred to as ‘fictionalism’ or ‘fan fiction’) but you must still be able to portray yourself as a real person with real-life problems in the process. Fiction writers often get away with portraying their characters as ‘larger-than-life’ individuals because of course, the reader knows that they are not real. This sort of writing can be fun and even educational, but it can also lead to severe credibility issues if the writer does not portray themselves as a reliable narrator.

In order to establish themselves as a credible narrator, every word the writer uses must ring true. This is why it is so important to do your research into the field you intend to write about. Familiarize yourself with the terminology and customs of your target audience. Even the most fantastic of stories must have a level of authenticity otherwise, the reader is likely to dismiss it as just that – fabulous writing designed to entertain.

The Real You Vs The Fictional You

When we choose to write about ourselves or people we know, we are usually prompted to expand upon events that have shaped us into the people we are today. This is known as ‘autobiographical writing’ and can be an incredibly powerful form of literature. The danger in writing about yourself is that you may ‘over-share’ and give too much away about yourself. The solution is very simple – keep some distance by writing in the third person. When you write in the first person, the reader is granted full access to your mind, which in turn offers a glimpse into your soul. This is an incredibly intimate form of writing and if handled incorrectly can lead to problems.

In order to protect yourself from potential problems, you should practice writing in the third person. Whenever you find yourself writing in the first person, stop, take a break, and rewrite the piece in the third person. In this way, you will remain detached and objective whilst allowing your readers to get to know the real you through your work. For example, when writing about a celebrity, it is best to keep your job in the third person. Letting your readers know that you worked for the same company as these people is usually sufficient to establish your credibility. Of course, you must be careful not to give too much away about yourself by using the first person singular often. This could potentially damage your ability to write in a similar capacity in the future.

Narrative & Structuralism

A ‘narrative’ is a story that is told from the first-person perspective of an individual. In order to establish a coherent narrative through a collection of disjointed stories, you must follow a fixed pattern or ‘structure’. For example, you may begin a story with a prologue, which introduces the setting and key players. You may then move on to the narrative itself, which begins as soon as the story begins and which concludes at the point where it left off. Following a structure ensures that all the loose ends are tied up and that the story flows effortlessly from beginning to end.

The advantage of a narrative is that it is easy to grasp the overarching theme. The main disadvantage is that it is usually lacking in action, so readers usually feel that the narrative is being ‘over-barked’. The solution is to intersperse the telling of the story with frequent breaks for action, which will help to ratchet up the pace and tension of the narrative – much like a Hollywood action-adventure movie. Once you have mastered the art of structuring narratives, you can move on to more complex literary tasks such as character building and theme elucidation.

Complexity Vs Simplicity

Simplicity is the antithesis of complexity. While a complex work may be difficult to follow and may rely heavily on literary devices and themes that are hard to unravel, a simple work is often enjoyable and accessible to the layperson. When choosing your subject matter, bear in mind that the simpler your writing, the more enjoyable and accessible it will be to your audience. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have a complex work that is excessively complicated and difficult to follow. Usually, such a work is either overly intellectual or overly emotional, so it is probably best to steer clear of these subjects if you want to write an enjoyable piece.

Whether you are a professional or a hobbyist, every writer should aim to produce simple, engaging works that they are proud of. Even if your work is never going to be more than a hobby, you should still strive to produce something that is as close to perfect as possible. There is no use in wasting your time and effort if you are not pleased with what you produce. The sooner you realize this, the better. The sooner you realize that your writing is sub-par, the sooner you will be able to make changes for the better. The only way to do this is to write frequently, revise, and edit. Never let a day go by without editing and refining your work. As a general rule, the simpler the better, so long as it is effective. The trick is to find that happy medium.