Thought for the Day: "All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know." ~Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway was born in Oak Park, IL on July 21, 1899. (So,
Happy Birthday, Hemingway!) He started writing as a young person, for
his school newspaper, and also worked for The Kansas City Star
before serving as an ambulance driver in World War I. His writing,
almost from the start, was like nothing anyone had ever read before.
The National Endowment for the Arts chose his novel A Farewell To Arms
for their "Big Read," saying that Hemingway's style "is among the most
recognizable and influential prose of the twentieth century. . . .
Hemingway's technique is uncomplicated, with plain grammar and easily
accessible language. His hallmark is a clean style that eschews
adjectives and uses short, rhythmic sentences that concentrate on action
rather than reflection."
Consider this passage from a story called "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber":
had started the night before when he had wakened and heard the lion
roaring somewhere up the river. It was a deep sound and at the end
there were sort of coughing grunts that that made him seem just outside
the tent, and when Francis Macomber woke in the night to hear it he was
afraid. He could hear his wife breathing quietly, asleep.
Words of one or two syllables, clean sentences, powerfully-evoked
emotion. Macomber has to get up the next morning and hunt this lion;
can't you feel his dread?
So this week we talk about writing style.
Hemingway had a theory that he could cut his writing to the bone, and
still convey everything the story needed. According to Hemingway's Iceberg Theory, a lot of what you will do after you have a first draft down is CUT. Read more on the Iceberg Theory.
You need not write like Hemingway, of course; there are many
different writing styles, as many styles as there are writers. You will
find your own style as you continue to work on your writing, but it
doesn't hurt to consider the style of successful authors who have come
before us. Interestingly, in his book On Writing: A Memoir, Stephen King says that he has rule similar to Hemingway's, almost like a mathematical formula: 2nd draft = 1st draft minus 10%.
Read 7 Editing Questions To Make Work Sparkle and then try the Writing Prompt.
Writing Prompt #7: Take something you have written, and apply the Iceberg Theory, the Stephen King Revision Rule and the 7 Editing Questions
to it, ruthlessly! Go through your piece and cut every word, every
sentence, every passage or paragraph, that is not earning its place on
the page. You will come across words and sentences you love...but are
they essential? You might especially find inessentials in dialogue.
Review last week's post
and cut there too. You might need to change the structure or some
other things about your work after you have cut, but do the cutting
first. When you have reduced this piece to its bones, read it aloud.
Anything else that could go..? When you feel satisfied that your piece
is as lean as it can be, put it aside, if you like. Or if this exercise
has inspired you, keep writing, then cutting, then writing some more.
William Zinsser on Simplicity (Zinsser is the author of an extremely useful book called On Writing Well, a must-read for any aspiring writer, and especially helpful for non-fiction)
William Zinsser on Style (This website unfortunately attributes this piece to "David Zinnser," but the rest of the text is correct and from On Writing Well!)
"I have rewritten--often several times--every word I have ever published. My pencils outlast their erasers." ~Vladimir Nabokov
Resources and Links:
Strunk and White's The Elements of Style (See especially "Vigorous writing is concise.")
The Writer magazine
Writing Concise Sentences