1. writerdude11
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    writerdude11 Member

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    A question about "abstractions"

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by writerdude11, Apr 19, 2013.

    Hey guys, I was recently critiqued by an editor from my local editing department and he said i used way too many "abstractions" such as "joy", "desolation" and "happiness". He said i need to use descriptions to make abstractions concrete. Would the following example be a change from abstract to concrete?. Here it is.

    Abstract-"She was so overcome with joy and excitement, she could hardly contain herself."

    Concrete-"It was evident by the huge smile on her face that she was overcome with joy and her slight jumping up and down showed she could hardly contain herself."

    Did I get this right?, and also isn't joy a universal theme?. If you could respond to this id greatly appreciate it. Thanks.
     
  2. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    What do you mean by "local editing department"? I don't have one of those, to the best of my knowledge.

    Your abstract example is, in fact, abstract. But your concrete example uses the same words. It would be better phrased something like this:

    "A huge smile spread across her face. She started bouncing on her toes, then suddenly flung her arms around me and hugged me so tightly I thought she was going to hurt one of us. 'Thank you, Daddy! Thank you!' Her tears were soaking my shirt but I didn't care. Mine were soaking hers, too."

    Your concrete example reads almost like a laboratory report. "We were able to determine that she was overcome with joy by measuring the width of her smile with our precise laboratory instruments. The graph below, showing the amplitude and frequency of her jumps, indicates with 98% certainty that she could hardly contain herself." Do away with the abstract language in the concrete example. Just write it like you mean it.
     
  3. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I think he was talking about the old "show, don't tell" rule. So instead of saying she's happy, show it through her actions and/or words. Your "concrete" example still says that she was overcome with joy. Saying that she had a smile on her face and that she jumped up and down is enough to know that she was overcome with joy, so you don't have to explicitly state it.

    That being said, I never really paid attention to this rule in my own writing. Some writers like telling and others like showing. It's really just a matter of preference.
     
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  4. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    In your original sentence, you're explaining her joy rather than demonstrating it. In your second, you're explaining it _and_ demonstrating it. I would suggest just demonstrating it. For example:

    She bounced up and down slightly, her usually sober face all smiles. "Really? I can go?"
     
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  5. Jhunter
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    Jhunter Mmm, bacon. Contributor

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    Agreed. Just show instead of tell.
     
  6. Jhunter
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    Jhunter Mmm, bacon. Contributor

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    Speaks the truth.
     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The problem with these "abstractions" is that they are too broad, and therefore sterile. If you describe the outward signs of the character's joy, as in minstrel's example, there is no need to slap on the generic label at all. You have shown this character's expression of bouncy, affectionate exuberance, as opposed to, say, the placid bliss of a mystic who has attained inner harmony.

    Good writing consists of a well-considered balance between showing and telling. Emotions and subtleties of relationships are two of the situations that more often than not benefit from more showing and less telling.

    See Show and Tell
     
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  8. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    what is a 'local editing department'?... at a local newspaper?... a school that teaches editing?... or...???
     
  9. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    I again had the same question -- this is at least the second posting where you've referenced this "local editing department." Dude, please tell us who this is, and how it came about that they are critiquing your work. It would make it much easier for us (and more helpful to you) if we understand the context within which you are receiving these criticisms.

    That said, minstrel and chicken are right. Your second example uses the same words and doesn't tell us anything additional. It's actually worse than your original.
     
  10. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    Brilliant, but that laugh just made me splatter Nescafe all over the keyboard.
     

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