1. Zero the Hero

    Zero the Hero New Member

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    Abstract Writing

    Discussion in 'By the Genre' started by Zero the Hero, Jan 9, 2017.

    As a writer, my focus is on the absurd, the grotesque, etc. within the short story format. In doing so, it is essential to create a surreal and otherworldly atmosphere.

    One method is the "less is more" approach, to create an impression through the elements you're excluding.

    I do the following:

    When it comes to setting, I don't name the location the story occurs in, instead referring to it simply as the "town" "city" "village" etc. as the case may be. I don't name the time of its' occurrence either (no years, decades, centuries etc.) and describe the technology obliquely, so it is unclear when the story takes place.

    As for characters, I never give them proper names but instead refer to them by their familial and occupational titles (i.e. "father" "toll-keeper" "shop-keep" "sister" etc.) I always write in the first person and never name the narrator, identifying him simply as "I".

    I never write dialogue but instead describe it secondhand. Instead of writing out an argument between two characters, I write something like "We exchanged words, harshly and bitterly, before storming in opposite directions."

    When it comes to staging and action, I present space and time obliquely. Instead of stating exact measurements of either, I keep my language vague and imprecise ("The tower was a great distance away, and so a great distance I drove.")

    When describing the appearance of things, I often don't state their names but instead break them down to their constituent parts and describe those so the reader knows what it is. For instance, instead of writing a "skyscraper" I write "a tall form, rectangular and metallic, penetrated the sky."

    Although this is purely a matter of style (substance is another story, no pun intended) I feel it effective in giving stories a disconnected, dream-like quality, one that is "denser" and more alienating than normal reality.

    Does anyone on here use the same techniques, or know of any well known writer who does?
     
  2. Lew

    Lew Contributor Contributor

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    Yes, likewise. The more you leave to the reader's imagination, the more vivid it will be in their mind. The more you describe every minute detail the more the reader bogs down and starts skimming. I do save details when I want them to picture something not in their everyday experience. And interestingly, my readers claim it gives my work a movie like quality, because they are seeing it with their eyes, not mine.
     
  3. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I suspect that I disagree. I think that withholding details distracts the reader's focus, because people crave details. Those details don't need to be real-world details, but by leaving them out, I think that you distance the reader and keep them from being absorbed in the story.

    Now, maybe someone could point me to a work that uses these guidelines that makes me change my mind, but that's how I see it right now. The description did remind me of The Light Princess, by George MacDonald, which I do quite like, but that book does have selected details, specific dialogue, and so on.

    So. I'm not sure.
     
  4. 123456789

    123456789 Contributor Contributor

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    How do your readers like this?
     
  5. Spencer1990

    Spencer1990 Contributor Contributor

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    I recently read American Purgatorio, by John Haskell. This novel is a little like what you're describing. It feels like a lucid dream the whole way through. Though, he doesn't take it quite as far as you've described. There is dialogue--not a lot, but it's there. He does call things by their names. But the book feels like a dream. I think largely because of the premise.

    So here's where I stand:

    I found it a bit irritating to read. I got through the whole thing just on the verge of being totally absorbed, and I never got there because I felt like I was at a distance.

    As for not using the words to describe things (the skyscraper example), I'd immediately put the book down. Specificity is valued for a reason. I don't need four or six words to tell me it's a skyscraper. That's why the word exists. If this was done throughout an entire book, I'd be likely to never pick up that author again. Maybe some people would like that, but I can't say even the thought (or your example) sounds appealing.
     
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  6. OJB

    OJB A Mean Old Man Contributor

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    Abstract writing is the worse, and for good reason. It is not the reader's responsibility to fill in the blanks, it is the writer's. The goal of a writer is to entertain not force the reader to entertain himself by giving him a half filled out image and say "Figure the rest out yourself."

    Also, creating a surreal (dream-like) images has nothing to do with being abstract and is created by using adjectives and adverbs that seem to contradict what they are describing (A blue leafed tree. Lovingly, I stabbed the man to death.)
     
  7. yeon

    yeon Member

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    I think what you're describing works for poetry, where there's an expectation for abstract writing. When reading a book, people are usually in it for the story which may get confusing if the writing gets too abstract.

    This is not only confusing for readers, but for the writer as well, and I think the story would suffer if not grounded in solid setting/history.
     
  8. OJB

    OJB A Mean Old Man Contributor

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    No it doesn't. Poetry is not about abstract writing. It is about creating emotion within a single instance, using devices such as imagery (which is the opposite of abstractions) Figures of speech, musical devices, and meter.
     
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  9. yeon

    yeon Member

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    I mean, but it can be abstract though. :confused:
    Sorry if I've misunderstood something.
     
  10. Spencer1990

    Spencer1990 Contributor Contributor

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    That's a misconception that often leads to bad poetry. Poetry should be specific, grounded in images, using all of the devices @OJB mentioned to create emotion. Abstractions lead to the opposite of emotion. That's how words become meaningless markings on paper.
     
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  11. yeon

    yeon Member

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    I personally prefer abstract poetry, or what I thought was abstract. I think it can make a poem extremely personal for the reader (who has to fill in the holes). I'm sorry if this is off-topic, but would this poem be considered abstract? I've liked it for a long time and always thought it was so, but now I'm unsure of what an abstract poem would be.

    "I learn urgently
    the architecture of loss
    then find you again."
     
  12. OJB

    OJB A Mean Old Man Contributor

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    That is not the job of the reader, though. The reader is there to be entertained, the job of the writer is to entertain the reader.

    Also, your poem, who you should credit to Warsan Shire, is a sound poem, that uses a Juxtaposition.
     
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  13. yeon

    yeon Member

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    I do think that's debatable. Especially in more abstract forms of writing. I also think it's wrong to say that writing is purely done for the entertainment of the reader. However, I feel as if you correcting me is not purely for the sake of the discussion but rather because I've said something annoying. So, I apologize.

    You're right, that is Warsan Shire's poem though. I really like her stuff.
     
  14. SethLoki

    SethLoki Retired Autodidact Contributor

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    I'd understand this if I was journeying along with the teller of your story who was maybe a stranger to this land or language, one who didn't possess all the knowledge or nouns, whose patois had them unwittingly cryptically skirt around.

    To keep me interested though it'd need to be compensated with compelling description and clever word choices (to make the phrasal synonyms).

    ^ This is just me by the way and I'm a rarity with my fondness for oddly written stuff—I'd agree with a lot of what's been said above this post and the inferences that you'll have a limited audience (personal experience).

    Surely it's possible to have abstract imagery? That's not an oxymoron no?
     
  15. Alex R. Encomienda

    Alex R. Encomienda Contributor Contributor

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    That's very true. I also try not to get too detailed. Many others think details and imagery are keys however.. I've skimmed through stories that relied too much on details than on the actual story progression (Words get in the Way). I also read stories where the narrative is complicated and difficult to follow with less imagery but I loved it. Sartre's The Wall is a perfect example of that.
     
  16. Shadowfax

    Shadowfax Contributor Contributor

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    I don't feel that your writing does much in the way of being dream-like.

    My dreams typically take place in a specific location...albeit, usually very different from what it's like in real life.

    I know who many of the characters are...again, God knows why e.g. Gordon is there in the same dream as Matt!

    I don't tend to have a lot of dialogue in my dreams; perhaps we're communicating telepathically? But I don't get a lot of "exchanging words and storming off".

    Yeah, time and distance get weirdly mangled in dreams.

    As far as "the appearance of things", I know that I've seen a skyscraper, not a "tall form..." so why would I become verbose about it?

     
  17. making tracks

    making tracks Active Member

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    For me, not having a pinned down setting and time would not be a problem, as long as it's internally consistent. For example, if someone suddenly started using a mobile phone when there had been no previous mention of modern Western technology I would find it jarring, as I would have to mentally re-write the scene I had already imagined.

    I also like the idea of making a story dream-like, but like other replies have said, the more vague and odd descriptions take a different sort of effort as a reader which will put some people off, as you might not be able to slip into the story so easily. If these are short stories, or short dream sequences within a novel, I think I would find them very interesting. However, I think the constant interpretation of this sort of writing would become too wearing for a novella or novel.

    Of course, this is just my personal opinion of the sort of things I enjoy to read!
     
  18. Mckk

    Mckk Member Supporter Contributor

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    Well, as with most things in writing, it depends on how you use these devices, where and when and how often. By themselves, sure your techniques sound fine. But write an entire story that way and all you'll be left with is vagueness. There's a distinct difference between mystery and simple vagueness. The former takes skill; the latter is just bad writing. And you can usually tell a novice from an experienced writer precisely by how vague they keep their writing, thinking vagueness equates mystery or tension, and it just doesn't. It's knowing when to stay vague and when to give details, and what kind of details when - it's that level of calculation that determines whether you really achieve your dream-like quality and successfully creep your readers out.

    Staying vague is easy. Creating mystery is hard. You need to give just enough that the reader has a very specific image in his head, and yet keep him from ever being too certain of himself. There's also a distinct difference between confusion and ambiguity.

    As with everything in writing, there's a place for everything. I find these kind of shortcuts - talk of particular techniques - potentially unhelpful. Better would be to analyse a quality piece of text that does exactly what you're trying to convey and study how that author did it.
     
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