One of the greatest writers of modern times, Ernest Hemingway knew what makes a great story and he also knew how to present this story to the reader. Hemingway relied on a number of powerful literary tools to make every single text outstanding, memorable and vibrant.
Whether you’re a fiction writer or any other professional dealing with words on a regular basis, you can learn a lot from Hemingway. A few of the greatest lessons derived from his works will strengthen your texts, give them the impactful quality all writers are looking for and enable you to utilize a couple of advanced literary tools.
Keep it Short!
Things that are left unsaid will often be much more potent than lengthy and meandering descriptions.
Hemingway was a master in terms of keeping it short and putting a lot of meaning in everything that has not been put on the page.
A terse and minimalist style of writing ranks among the most difficult ones to develop. When you write, you should get in the habit of editing yourself and taking some of the needless details out. Get straight to the point. Flowery language is often used to fill up the page with words (or reach a word count) without giving the reader anything valuable.
The KISS principle is a similar concept and it is a great choice for all kinds of writing. Keep it short and simple! Here is just one example out of Hemingway’s career that’s a perfect illustration of KISS. When asked to tell a story in six words, Hemingway came up with the following:
For sale: baby shoes, never worn.
If you can manage to put this much meaning in just six words and to make the unspoken a part of the text, you would have achieved mastery.
Make the Writing Process Continuous
Monologue to the Maestro: A High Seas Letter is a Hemingway article for Esquire that was produced in 1935. In the article, Hemingway described what it takes to make the writing process continuous.
In his own words, you have to stop writing for the day while you still have an idea about what will happen next.
This technique is very important for fiction writers who don’t want to go through writer’s block in the middle of the process. Once creativity is completely depleted, it becomes nearly impossible to find a new direction for a work of literature.
When you’re on a high and you feel that you’re doing great, you should consider stopping for the day and continuing the process the next morning. When you know what would happen next, you can ensure a smooth and continuous process that will have a positive impact on the quality and the flow of the text.
To ensure continuity, Hemingway also encourages taking breaks and disconnecting from the writing process when not working. Writers who think about their story constantly and who worry about what would happen next lose their edge. Over-exertion can easily kill an idea before it has come to complete fruition.
Say What Is, Not What Isn’t
Many of Hemingway’s works are rather dark. The language, however, maintains a positive feel to it.
This is accomplished in a rather simple way – telling what is rather than what isn’t. Weak language is detrimental to the writer and negative constructions (as well as passive voice) are some of the most weakening structures out there.
If you say that the night sky is not dark, you are still focusing on the word dark. A sentence like “Stars light up the night sky, giving it brightness and unimaginable color” is much more powerful and engaging,
This rule ties with the previous one of using flowery and descriptive language. Hemingway is known for showing instead of telling. Telling the reader what emotion a protagonist feels is as sloppy as using negative constructions. Make the emotion shine through the actions and the words of the protagonist. Paint it in an active way and the reader is going to feel it deep in their soul.
To sum it up, refrain from being sloppy with your language. Don’t be negative and don’t tell but rather show. You will need time to develop these skills and to catch the errors. Once you experiment with different constructions and writing styles, however, you will discover the strong sentences that will make your texts stand out.
Read Your Work before Moving on
Good writing isn’t just about writing. Many other processes will be involved. Reading your work as you go is vitally important according to Hemingway.
This tip is especially important for people who create longer works like books, eBooks or plays. In such instances, writing is going to be a continuous process. The amount of time needed to complete the text can take away from its flow. Even if you feel that you’re aware of all details in the text, you can still miss something important and create a logical gap.
Hemingway’s tip is to always read through your work before you continue writing.
In his own words, reading everything from the start on a daily basis is the best way to move forward. Even if you don’t, you can still reacquaint yourself with the last chapter or at least the last few pages you wrote before taking a break.
All of these sound simple and easy to implement but you will need time and a lot of work to refine your style and get to a point where you’ll feel confident in your skills. Even the great Hemingway struggled on occasions.
In 1934, Hemingway said “I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.” It takes a lot of work and getting rid of the bad text in order to become a good writer. Don’t get frustrated if the magic fails happening the first time around. Be insistent and keep on trying. Even if you fail a few times, you will eventually create the impactful text you know you have the power to put together.