Made to Stick for Writers: Concrete

Monday, August 2

When I was first learning French, I would pore over my notes, struggling to hit it home that “chien” meant “dog” and “pomme” meant “apple.” But it never seemed to stick. It was hard to see one word as a literal translation of another.
Then one day my teacher shows up lugging a bag of pretend food. She held up the plastic apple and declared “pomme.”
Everything clicked. “Pomme” was the firm fruit whose taste, texture, and smell were familiar to me. She gave me something visual. She gave me a concrete definition.

That’s what a concrete story does; it latches onto the reader’s memories and triggers the five senses. The reader feels like they’re watching alongside the characters.

Studies of the human memory show that we’re better at remembering concrete nouns versus abstract ones. It’s easier to remember something you can visualize (grapefruit, train) rather than something abstract (equality, hope).

Writers constantly present the abstracted form of the noun “Pain”. To say “he cried in pain” is not enough. Don’t tell me that he’s in pain, show me.
Lois Lowry provides an excellent example in her book The Giver as she describes a broken leg;

Then, the first wave of pain. He gasped. It was as if a hatchet lay lodged in his leg, slicing through each nerve with a hot blade. In his agony he perceived the word “fire” and felt flames licking at the torn bone and flesh. He tried to move, and could not…

The description uses several concrete nouns; “hatchet”, “hot blade”, “fire”, “torn bone and flesh”. The agony feels almost real, as if we too are experiencing it.

To make your story concrete, use concrete details. Through the five senses, describe what is happening to your character. What do they see, smell, hear, taste, and feel?
Don’t tell me the house was old. Show me the bald patches of roof tile, the door with a zigzag crack running down the middle, the sooty window panes broken into jagged teeth, the stench of mildew, the creak of an old shutter in the wind, the splintered wood, the dusty air you choke down every time you breathe.

Put the reader in the story.

Intro
Part 1: Simple
Part 2: Unexpected
Part 3: Concrete (You are here)
Part 4: Credible
Part 5: Emotional
Part 6: Story
Part 7: Epilogue

1 comment(s):

thiruppathy999 Friday, September 09, 2011  

congrats! keep up the good work/this is a great presentation.

Concrete

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