I’ve always had a slight fear of reading Hemingway, especially after a couple of different people had told me that they hated him. I remember reading his most famous short story, “Hills like White Elephants” and not liking it. I remember all the stories that I heard about Hemingway and not liking him. When comparing dead white men, I much prefer Salinger.
This year, I signed up for the Major Authors class, which required us to read Hemingway and Fitzgerald. After reading one of his stories, I told my English teacher that I definitely saw the merit in reading Hemingway, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that I liked his works. I told him I’ll have to read more to see if I liked him.
One of the first reasons that I didn’t think I “liked” Hemingway’s writing was because of its simplicity. Sentences like “Liz liked Jim very much” (Up in Michigan) or “He sat there on the porch reading a book on the war” (Soldier’s Home) is the basis of Hemingway’s writing style.
Because of his minimalist writing style, it was difficult at first to understand what the point his stories had, or even if they had a point. But after my AP Lang teacher taught me how to “read” (by which, I mean close read), I became relatively good at parsing the text. Descriptions like “Liz liked Jim very much” provided insight to Liz’s age while “He sat there on the porch reading a book on the war” helped me better understand Kreb’s psyche.
Reading became a science in itself. By taking a metaphorical microscope to literary studies, I discovered that there were mountains of meaning underneath just a few simple words. Unknowingly, I was realizing what Hemingway coined “The Iceberg Theory”, which basically states that the thematic meaning of a story should never be outwardly said, but discovered through close parsing of a text.
After I read, really read, Hemingway, I started noticing a change in my writing. I became hyper-aware of every detail I included, and even though I never wrote my first drafts with a thematic intention in mind, something was in the back of my mind, constantly asking me whether ta detail or a scene was absolutely necessary.
I also gained a better understanding of craft and how the form of a story reflects it function, how everything is intertwined. For example, simplistic, and even childish language, can lead us to concluding a character’s immature mind.
Details became the building blocks of the character’s entire world. Details showcase the part of the character that becomes real to us. Random details should never be random and should always serve a purpose.
I’m working on a story temporarily titled “Teddy”, and I love it so far. My writing style has taken quite a turn from some previous stories that I’ve written, ones that come to mind are “Etymology” and “Cactus”.
To any writer who’s tired of the same old writing advice, Hemingway is your man. Take some time to close read a few of his stories, and you’ll find your writing would have improved because your reading would’ve improved.