From Sarah, With Joy

*Poet * Author * Wanderluster*

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Idea Brainstorming with the Pyramid of Abstraction

Some days we have ideas buzzing around in our mind--too many to even remotely keep track of. Other days our brain feels like a dry sponge and we can't get anything out of it no matter how hard we try. Here's a little something that might help.

Okay. So here we have the Pyramid of Abstraction. This represents the structure our writing should take. On the bottom, at the base, we have a solid foundation of the most concrete, specific details we can possibly get. That is where the rubber meets the road. That is where our readers relate to what we are saying, and how they understand. We can talk about abstract ideas and themes but we need to build on this concrete foundation first if we want to be understood, before we can get to--wait for it--the point. (Anyone? Anyone?)

Anyway. So this is not really new, right? We all know a solid foundation of full and rich detail is what makes a good piece of writing. Our readers need to be pulled in to our world in order to really relate to and understand our larger, more abstract ideas. But we can take this principle and flip it on its head and use it as a fantastic brainstorming device.

Let's do an example. Let's pick some abstract concept or word. How about 'Beauty.' Pretty abstract right? Okay, let's get a little more specific. How about 'Angelic.' That's better. So what's angelic? How about we take it literally and talk about a statue of an angel. In a garden in a manor house in Spain. It's being transferred over from the workshop of the sculptor, a middle aged man whose wife just left him. His son is a sculptor too is in school in the States and is about to come home for Christmas break.

See what we did there? We took an abstract concept and flipped it into a story. What if we'd picked a different word for beauty. How about 'Graceful.' So then we've got a ballerina. She's from Kentucky but has worked for a lead ballerina role her whole life. Her mom was a prima ballerina and she has always felt like she's in that shadow. Now she's about to have the audition of her life, but one of the other girls auditioning is the daughter of the director.

Totally different story from the same word, 'Beauty.' It can work with any abstract idea: anger, happiness, sadness, shame. Try it out next time you're stuck. See what you can come up with.

Sarah Allen


  1. A great idea for brainstorming a story based on a vague concept floating in our heads. Thanks for sharing, Sarah.

  2. All I need is the vague concept.

  3. Word choices are important. The more accurate the better.

    Anna from Shout with Emaginette


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