Thursday, August 29, 2013

Step 7: Developing Style

Hemingway.jpgThought 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":

african-male lion.jpgIt 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?

iceberg.jpgSo 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.

stephen-king.jpgWriting 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.

Writing Advice:
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!)

Inspirational Words:
"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

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