Writers Write is a resource for writers. In this post, we tell you how to write like Hemingway with these 10 easy tips.
[Ernest Hemingway was an American author whose style strongly influenced modern fiction. He was born 21 July 1899, and died 2 July 1961.]
Have you put in the time to learn your craft, but still struggle with stale characters, info dumps, and purple prose?
All three issues can kill reader interest, but there is a fix.
I know because I’ve been there. And I’ve come out the other side of these issues a stronger writer.
I read Hemingway’s most famous stories, taking note of the techniques he used. I read and annotated every book I found on identifying, analysing, and codifying his writing style.
Now, I’m proud to present what I’ve learned. Below, I have compiled and condensed all the core techniques of Hemingway’s style.
Look it over; apply what you find helpful.
If you don’t, you’ll miss out on a thorough analysis of the techniques behind the most influential prose stylist ever. If you do, your writing will be renewed and invigorated, just as Hemingway’s writing renewed and invigorated literature.
How To Write Like Hemingway With These 10 Easy Tips
- Write from experience: Hemingway used real people and events as material for his stories. Because of this, some of his work straddles the line between fiction and non-fiction. He believed using real people and events as inspiration made his characters feel more dimensional, and the events more believable. Take an event from your life and write a fictionalised account using characters who are amalgams of real people. Using amalgams will also ensure your characters are fresh and original.
- Use the Iceberg Method: Hemingway likened a story to an iceberg. While the writer should know a story’s depths, the reader needs only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. From this, the reader can infer the story’s omitted bulk. In his story, Hill’s Like White Elephants, a couple at a train station have a drink and talk before their journey, dancing around the story’s true conflict: they are discussing getting an abortion. However, neither ever says the word “abortion”. Hemingway shows only the top of the “iceberg”, but he implies a story of much greater depth underneath the mundanities.
- Use short, common words: Hemingway was fluent in Spanish, French, and Italian. These languages all have limited vocabularies relative to English, yet Hemingway found each richly expressive. It’s likely this awareness inspired his simple and restrained vocabulary. He also opted to use words with Germanic roots rather than Latin roots because they have fewer syllables and they are used more commonly. A long, unfamiliar word might make the reader pause to look up the word, pulling her out of the story. Short, common words are invisible, meaning she’ll remain immersed.
- Prefer nouns and verbs to adjectives and adverbs: The Kansas City Star, a newspaper Hemingway worked for early in life, was seminal in his development as a writer. The Star’s style guide taught to always prefer a precise noun or verb over adding a modifier to an imprecise word. Omitting modifiers also helps mitigate a writer’s temptation to write abstractly. Like Hemingway, only use an adjective and adverb when it changes the meaning of the word it modifies. “He smiled happily” is redundant, but “he smiled sadly” is effective because “sadly” substantively changes the meaning and effect of the verb.
- Use short, simple sentences: Everything about Hemingway’s writing style was calibrated to make reading his work easy and pleasant. This may explain his preference for short, simple sentences. He knew even one long, convoluted sentence is enough to make a reader’s eyes glaze. Rather than reread it, most readers will skim, assuming they’ll get the gist. But if this goes on too long, they may give up altogether.
- Use long, compound sentences connected by “and”: Wait—wasn’t Hemingway best known for short sentences? Wasn’t he opposed to lengthy confusing sentences? Yes. However, he used a technique called polysyndeton to link simple declarative sentences together with the word “and” to create a sense of panoramic sweep or to build suspense without sacrificing clarity.
- Cut commas from compound sentences: The comma is a cue to take a breath when reading. It helps control rhythm and pacing. But Hemingway often strove to create a brisk and breathless feel to his writing. So, whenever cutting commas in compound sentences wouldn’t affect reader comprehension, he would cut away, making his sentences read at a fast clip and giving them urgency.
- Limit subordination: This technique is tied to the previous two. Many have argued “and” was Hemingway’s favourite word. And one way he found to smuggle it in at every chance was to limit subordination in his sentences. So, a sentence like this: Hemingway loved to use polysyndeton, so he limited subordination. Might be rewritten this way: Hemingway loved to use polysyndeton, and he limited subordination. Written this way, the sentence urges the reader to infer the implicit causal connection between clauses. Just like with his Iceberg Method, this micro-level technique shows Hemingway thought that, if he presented his story’s information clearly, he could trust readers to make deeper inferences for themselves.
- Use short paragraphs: Chunking your writing into huge sprawling paragraphs intimidates readers. They’ll likely assume your work will be as slow and ponderous as it looks. Hemingway kept his paragraphs short to ensure there was plenty of white space to give the reader’s eyes a break. Even better, short small paragraphs help readers keep their place and delineate the story’s action.
- Use Stichomythia: Stichomythia refers to the look of dialogue on the page. Hemingway would get two characters in a conversation, using brief exchanges without dialogue tags, interruptive descriptions, actions, or interiority. This was another way he created white space on his pages, giving his stories a welcoming look.
The Last Word
Let’s end with a quote from the man himself as encouragement you as you sally forth with these insights: “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you must do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”
Source for photo
by Oliver Fox
Oliver earned his BFA from the University of Memphis (2015). After graduation, he worked as an editorial assistant for The Pinch (’16). Currently, he works as a manuscript analyst and is an MFA candidate at the University of New Orleans.
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