Scales of Abstraction

04 Feb

I think it is fascinating that as human beings, we spend the majority of our lives living in our heads. ‘Day in Day out,’ we struggle to communicate these mental dialectics as a social animal. Evolution has taught us to appreciate the necessity of word choice, and how to express ideas and thoughts using appropriate tone. Yet, the majority of the communications we have mastered, as social beings are verbal and auditory.

Unseasoned writers, often times struggle to understand, why they have problems communicating the meaning behind their writing, even after they have grasped a firm understanding of their projected audience.

I believe that a possible solution to this dilemma lies in an exercise in “Scales of Abstraction.”

Lets take for example, the use of emotions in reflective and/or narrative based writing. When doing this genre of writing, we as writers often take for granted that our readers have a good understanding of basic emotions. After all, who among us does not know what anger, embarrassment, or even happiness feels like? We would typically bypass deconstructing these concepts, and focus instead on the themes of the stories we want to share. What we often times end up with, in this case, is a narrative or a reflection that communicates information but does not express. When the story is complete and the reader’s have read their fill, we still find ourselves explaining its significance, answering that infinite question-why.

Why was that moment so important? I understand what you are saying, but why is it significant? Even though we all share similar emotions, we experience and express them in different ways. Embarrassment for one of your readers might be trivial, something that is fleeting, and an emotion they do not linger on for very long. For you, the feeling of embarrassment in your narrative could have been a pivotal breakthrough in one particular moment of your story, because that emotion affects you more significantly. In this case, you want to put the reader in your shoes. You want them to see the situation as you see it-because only then, can they truly understand what you are trying to say.

Using the Scales or Abstraction helps you to break down concept and words that although share a common understanding, reveal a more person expression.

From simply saying,
“I was embarrassed when they laughed at me, It was because of that incident that I started to dislike reading.”

we can move to a richer more expressive narrative allows the reader to be in our shoes and explain why “being embarrassed” had affect you so deeply.

Let’s move down the scale/ladder of abstraction:




Wanting to be anywhere but here->

I was embarrassed when they laughed at me. I felt my body get hot and my hands felt clammy. I could not force myself to look any of them in the eye. The image of an ant under a magnifying glass for some unexplainable reason was the only thing on my mind in that moment. I did not know how much longer I could just stand there, being the center of attention, of their enjoyment. It felt as if I had been sitting there for hours. It was not until I self-consciously twirled my watch around my sweaty wrist that I noticed that only a minute had passed. It was because of that incident that I started to dislike reading.”

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Posted by on February 4, 2012 in Uncategorized


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