Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Iceberg Principle

"It was a very simple story called "Out of Season" and I had omitted the real end of it which was that the old man hanged himself. This was omitted on my new theory that you could omit anything if you knew that you omitted and the omitted part would strengthen the story and make people feel something more than they understood."
-Ernest Hemingway

This is what I'm trying to make my basic approach to writing. I think it's boring to have somebody else do all the imagination work for me when I'm reading. I just need the writer to be the spotter while I do heavy lifting.

Application koan!

My readers are slightly smarter than I think they are.

If I can't omit something, my story is too long.


Poaching is Bad

250 words? Yes
Book "Lived Too Long To Die"
- - - -
Reading - ?



  1. I love Hemingway, and I think he was a master at the principle you stated.

    However, "Hills Like White Elephants" may be the one story in which he leaves out too much. I don't know anyone who "figures it out" without a little bit of help.

    And that's not what a story is -- figuring it out, as if it were a puzzle.

    Yet, I completely agree -- the best writing leaves just enough out so that the reader has to put it together.

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  3. I like "Hills Like White Elephants", in the sense of how it made me feel after I finished reading it. I didn't know what the subtext was, but I knew that there was subtext and could see the glimmers of the conflict. Sometimes that's enough.

    It helps that I trusted Mr. Hemingway not to be a jackass writer and be quasi-mysterious and faux-symbolic, so while reading his story that made me good again I eventually teased out a rough image of the subtext. Still not sure What Happens Next though.

    Of course, this is the only short story I know that requires a spoiler alert for its subtext.


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