All terms

What is an abstract?

Existing in thought or as an idea but not having a physical or concrete existence.

Capturing the Intangible: Understanding the Abstract in Creative Writing

Abstract concepts, ideas, and emotions are all integral to creative writing, but often challenging to articulate with precision. Trying to pin down something as nebulous as 'love' or 'despair' can feel frustrating, but it is precisely these ineffable topics that make creative writing vibrant and meaningful.

While writing about the concrete is fairly straightforward, abstract writing requires a greater degree of finesse. It is not enough to simply list out synonyms or stock metaphors for an emotion or idea. Rather, the writer must find particular, evocative language that truly captures the essence of the abstract concept they are attempting to convey.

Grammar and syntax also play a crucial role in effectively communicating abstract ideas. Depending on the desired effect, a sentence's structure may need to be altered to emphasize certain words or phrases, or to convey a sense of unease or confusion.

The origins of the word 'abstract' can help shed light on its creative potential. Coming from the Latin 'abstrahere', meaning 'to draw away', it suggests a kind of escape from the tangible world. In creative writing, abstraction allows for exploration of the innermost workings of the human psyche and the complexities of human experience.

Abstract Concepts in Literature: A Look at Two Examples

Abstract concepts such as love and death are woven throughout many works of literature, often taking on symbolic or philosophical significance.

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot

In Eliot's modernist masterpiece, the protagonist's feelings of isolation and despair are conveyed through abstract imagery and fragmented syntax.

The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy

Tolstoy's novella explores the complex emotions surrounding death, with Ivan Ilyich's decline serving as a metaphor for the fragility of life and the search for meaning.