Stealing from Hemingway

I don’t advise that you mimic Hemingway’s life.

But I do recommend that you take up one of his books, The Sun Also Rises or For Whom the Bell Tolls, and study.  Not content.  Style.  Hemingway’s works are masterpieces of style.  Take his opening paragraph from A Farewell to Arms:

In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains.  In the bed of the river there were pebbles and boulders, dry and white in the sun, and the water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the channels.  Troops went by the house and down the road and the dust they raised powdered the leaves of the trees.  The trunks of the trees were too dusty and the leaves fell early that year and we saw the troops marching along the road and the dust rising and leaves, stirred by the breeze, falling and the soldiers marching and afterward the road bare and white except for the leaves.

While Hemingway is known for his short sentences, we don’t find so much of that in this short passage.  Instead, we discover his way with direct and concise prose.  Poets live by the “make every word count” mantra, and it’s imperative that prose writers also take this into consideration.  Hemingway certainly did.  And look at the masterpieces that he sculpted, working his way through layers of verbosity to cut to the heart of his piece.  If you think simplified sentences cannot employ that same seductive rhythm of extensive description, you’re wrong.  Just read the last sentence of the passage above and tell me that Hemingway’s words don’t draw you with their rhythmic repetition.

Writing like Hemingway may not be your style, but give him a chance.  After all, he did win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954 “for his mastery of the art of narrative, most recently demonstrated in The Old Man and the Sea, and for the influence that he has exerted on contemporary style.”

The masterful Venus de Milo gained her beauty through the artist’s chisel, through long, strenuous hours of chiseling away at the stone.  Take a chisel to your own writing and keep chipping until you happen upon the masterpiece.

Check out this article from Writer’s Digest: “Write Like Ernest Hemingway.”