Monday, September 1, 2008

De-Fluffing Abstract Nouns

Abstract nouns refer to concepts and other intangibles. In the phrase "freedom of the press", "the press" is a concrete thing that enjoys the abstract "freedom".

You need abstract nouns to discuss abstract things like ideas and feelings. Superheroes need them to defend truth, justice, and the American way. But therein lies a problem.

People do not define such things the same way. What I believe to demonstrate the epitome of justice may seem, to you, to be utterly unjust. Because of their insubstantial nature, writers must take care when using abstract nouns.

To get your point across, make sure that you add concrete nouns that define your abstractions. In discussing freedom, for instance, give specific examples of what it means to you. Do you believe that the press "is free" to write whatever they like, regardless of the source or veracity? What limits exist to that freedom?

Without such examples, you leave your readers to puzzle out your meaning or to insert their own. They may come away from your piece with quite the opposite idea that you intended.

You cannot get philosophical without abstract nouns. Logic itself cannot be touched or tasted. But hazy language will never convince readers of anything, even simply to suspend their disbelief long enough to read your short story. Back them up with hard examples into which your readers can really sink their teeth.