The Short List for Creating Writing That Would Impress Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway, referring to Death in the Afternoon, said, “If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing, he may omit things he knows, and the reader–if the writer is writing truly enough–will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water.” In other words, it’s not what you say, but how you say it; it’s about what the reader discovers reading between the lines instead of what he or she is being told.

To write with subtlety and implication rather than hard telling, think about implementing these few rules:

Dump the adjectives and adverbs. Kevin Spacey in the movie Outbreak says to Dustin Hoffman, “Adjectives and adverbs are the crutch of a weak mind.” Every good writer knows they kill the impact of a sentence. There’s a skill to using adjectives and adverbs that must be learned. It’s not as you learned them in third grade.

Don’t use the words, look or feel. Instead, show the actions that feeling creates. For example, instead of saying she felt nervous, write what the nervous looks like.

Don’t use intensifiers. Intensifiers are words amateur writers think enhance the impact of a sentence. They don’t. There is no difference to the reader between something that is “painful,” “very painful,” or “extremely painful.” Use a metaphor instead.

January 29, 2018

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