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Become a Better Writer: Abstractions

Updated on April 6, 2010

Use Your Imagination - Oh, yes you have!

Some aspiring writers complain that they haven't a grain of imagination, so how could they possibly write fiction? My answer is that you don't need to worry about not having any imagination, naturally you already do, all you have to do is look around you, close your eyes, then start using your imagination.

No matter how great your technique may be otherwise, the quality of your writing is unlikely to exceed the sophistication of your thinking. I like simple ideas, but what I enjoy far more is when these are “taken to the next level” through the sophisticated use of abstractions.

When using abstractions, simply take what is foremost on your mind, then use your imagination as follows:

  • Fact A: Billy has a red car.
  • Abstraction A1: What would he have done without it? (Idea for an episode about angst);
  • Abstraction A2: How does he go to work when it breaks down? (Idea for a chapter about a day filled with hassle on public transportation, maybe a firing hanging over his head, financial woes);
  • Abstraction A3: Are the ladies attracted to his red car?

  • Fact B: Jackie had a nervous breakdown, she is in the hospitable right now.
  • Abstraction B1: Can we take this diagnosis for granted (idea for a plot about an evil mother-in-law trying to get Jackie out of the way);
  • Abstraction B2: What kind of hospital? Like one filled with spider webs, dark corridors, and echoes from metal doors being shut far down the endless hallways? (Idea for a thriller).

  • Fact C: Tommy voted for the Republicans, but he will go with the Democrats next time.
  • Abstraction C1: The Republicans and Democrats are merging together to form one party, democracy giving way to a form of authoritarianism (Idea for a political thriller);
  • Abstraction C2: Why is he doing this, does some politician have him in his pocket? (Idea for a political thriller).

These are merely a few examples of how abstractions can lead to deepen your plot, developing new ideas as you go. Great writers are often more abstract in their thinking than may be readily apparent in their writing; this is because much of the good stuff is written “between the lines” and in subtle nuances throughout the book. A great novel, for example, may have a main plot, sub-plots, and a sophisticated frame consisting of multiple abstraction layers.


Submit a Comment
  • Fiction Factory profile imageAUTHOR

    Fiction Factory 

    9 years ago

    Nellieanna, it sounds like you have found some serious traction on the fiction lane. Will look forward to reading your stories. Thanks.

  • Nellieanna profile image

    Nellieanna Hay 

    9 years ago from TEXAS

    Excellent help. Very valuable advice, as well as other of your hubs on writing.

    Sometimes a push or suggestion gets one off dead center & reveals a fresh approach or "take" on an undertaking.

    I've found that, though I love to write & am not too shabby at it, fiction writing rather intimidated me. Of course, as a kid I was an instigator of "pretend" little plays, story-like activities for our dolls, who acted out lengthy stories.

    But when I fairly recently had an experience of getting into one of those "continuous" stories in which people in the group contribute as they wish,in which it turned out that there were only 2 of us writing, the story took off like a firecracker. I found I was easily able to take up at the point the other person left off & let my imagination soar. It became a lengthy story full of many facets. Quite an eye-opener! Who'd have thought I would be writing science fiction? - lol. And it was such fun, as well as revealing.

    Thanks again. I'll be reading more of your hubs!

  • Fiction Factory profile imageAUTHOR

    Fiction Factory 

    9 years ago

    There is a time for work, a time for play - if fiction is your passion, then fiction it shall be. Thanks for your comment, and good luck with your stories.

  • AEvans profile image


    9 years ago from SomeWhere Out There

    Those are absolutely great examples when it comes to writing fiction. I believe I enjoy writing fiction the best, I find writing about non-fiction to be a little humdrum but I push myself to do it so that I can improve my skills. Another great hub! :)

  • Fiction Factory profile imageAUTHOR

    Fiction Factory 

    9 years ago

    Valerie, Merlin, and Immartin: Each of you has something unique to contribute, which only confirms that the craft of writing cannot be reduced to a formula. But this shouldn't discourage us from trying to understand and share some of the "secret ingredients" - thanks for your comments.

  • lmmartin profile image


    9 years ago from Alberta and Florida

    Abstractions are products of an imagination both for reader and writer. When I hear those who claim to have no imagination, I remind them this tool is standard equipment for the human race, and if difficult to use, it is only because it is thin and flacid due to lack of exercise.

    There are exercises designed to stimulate the use of imagination which can be found on many internet sites, all asking us to let go of our adult parameters and return to that happy time of easy "let's pretend" -- childhood.

    Thanks for an interesting read. Lynda

  • Merlin Fraser profile image

    Merlin Fraser 

    9 years ago from Cotswold Hills

    Hi FF,

    Yet another good hub, and a great answer. Many people seem to think that writers have this fantastic story all plotted out from begining to end. Which, in my case simply isn't true. I have an idea certainly, a situation or a fact which I twist around and play 'what if' games.

    I have my characters, who are going to be created or made up of bits from people I know. So in any given situation I know how that person would react, ie take it in their stride, run off screaming and so on.

    The story develops around their reaction to the situation and or the other characters.

    Think about your own friends and family, then think of a violent event in recent history, how well or not would they cope ?

    These are only random thoughts but they aid and stimulate imagination.

  • valeriebelew profile image


    9 years ago from Metro Atlanta, GA, USA

    Interesting hub. I have written one noval, and am working on some others. They all have subplots.


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