Concretize It

Monday, January 18, 2016

I haven’t read any of Ayn Rand’s novels, and I have no desire to do so. The same can be said for Stephen King’s horror novels. But the principles of good writing transcend the genre, theme, and message of an author’s fiction. So when it comes to books on perfecting the craft, I don’t care what types of novels the author writes as long as he or she does it well. I have read Stephen King’s On Writing at least twice, and I recently finished Ayn Rand’s The Art of Fiction.

I don’t agree with everything Ayn Rand says in that book. Still, I subscribe to most of its writing principles. My favorite could be summarized this way: good fiction concretizes the abstractions behind the story. Essentially, this is taking “show, don’t tell” one step further. When you show, make your nouns, verbs, and descriptions as concrete as possible without getting into minutiae.

Here is my own example.

Tell—Randy was attracted to Karen.

Show—Randy kissed Karen.

Concretize It—After putting his arms around Karen, Randy leaned forward and covered her mouth with his. Closing his eyes, he imagined doing this every night for the rest of his life.


Concretize It—Randy grabbed Karen’s arms and gripped them as he smashed his lips into hers.

Obviously, there is more than one way to show Randy kissing Karen, and these two examples of concretizing the kiss convey very different impressions. So if you want readers to know how your characters feel, don’t just show it.

Concretize it.


The picture at the head of this post is the Russian passport photo used by Alisa Zinov’yevna Rosenbaum (Ayn Rand) when she first came to this country in 1926, arriving just after she turned twenty-one. According to Wikimedia Commons, the picture is in the public domain under Russian law because it came from an official Russian document. (See Due to its age, it is also not protected under U.S. law.

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