ON WRITING

“It’s very easy to quit during the first ten years of writing. Nobody cares whether you write or not, and it’s very hard to write when nobody cares one way or the other. You can’t get fired if you don’t write, and most of the time you don’t get rewarded if you do. But don’t quit.” Andre Dubus

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

#IWSG post - July - How to write like the greats - Hemingway









It's the first Wednesday of the month again. Welcome to July's IWSG! Thanks Alex J Cavanaugh and your co-hosts this month--Yolanda Renee, Tyrean Martinson, Madeline Mora-Summonte , LK Hill, Rachna Chhabria, and JA Scott! Visit them if you can!

I buy a lot of how-to books and it used to make me insecure reading them and realising that my style was nothing like the 'greats' which might explain why I'm not a 'great'! But writing comes down to being true to yourself. You can emulate whoever you like, but you'll never be them. You'll just sound fake.

Still, now that I'm quite comfortable with my writing style, it doesn't mean I don't read how-to books any more. Came across a great one in the library.

And this might be a good place to belatedly insert my answer to this month's IWSG question: What's the best thing anyone has ever said about your writing? 

Easy: Michael di Gesu (whose opinion I value greatly) said my writing in Under the Tuscan Moon was "exquisite". That'll do me!

First Wed of Every MonthThe book is called 'Fiction Writing Master Class' and the subtitle is 'Emulating the work of great novelists to master the fundamentals of craft'.

Here are some of the greats covered:

Honore de Balzac
Charles Dickens
Herman Melville
Fyodor Dostoevsky
Edith Wharton
W. Somerset Maugham
Frank Kafka
D.H. Lawrence
Ernest Hemingway
Margaret Mitchell
J.D. Salinger
Ray Bradbury
Stephen King

It's no secret I'm a fan of Hemingway. I've read most of his little books, but I don't think I write like him. He's sparing in his prose while I tend to verbosity. But this book picks up the techniques these writers use which gives them their recognised style. Some of the techniques are great to follow.

Here are Hemingway's 'secrets':
Did you know Hemingway is the most imitated author of our time? Not everyone likes his sparse style, but nevertheless, if it worked for Hemingway, writers think it's worth trying to write like him.

I once found (and blogged about) a way to improve your writing was to find a favourite passage by a writer you love, copy it, then write your own. By doing this exercise, I found that I was able to expand my paragraphs, add more of the senses. It was like a free-writing exercise, but following the steps of a master. I know it improved my writing style.

So how did this book distil the style of Hemingway?

SENTENCE LENGTH
Hemingway is most famous for his short sentences. He used simplified, direct prose. But he worked long and hard to write like this. Unlike those of us who love the open slather of NaNoWriMo, it is said that Hemingway never moved on to the next sentence until he was happy with the one he'd just written.

Advice in this book?
Hemingway's technique is especially helpful when rewriting. Break up long complex thoughts into bite-sized morsels. Short sentences can have dramatic effect. String together a series of short sentences when you want to stress a point or add dramatic punch to your prose. I've found I'm doing this now without thinking too much about it.

Example from 'The Snows of Kilamanjaro'...

'All right. Now he would not care for death. One thing he had always dreaded was the pain.'

Notice the cumulative effect, pounding home the idea that the hero is nearing death.

Short sentences add variety and music to your writing...add create white space so your pages don't look cluttered. Mix short with long at times, which Hemingway was also fond of doing. There are many examples in The Old Man and the Sea when he was in the thoughts of the old fisherman.

SENTENCE SPEED
Hemingway's prose moves along at a rapid clip. He writes in the fast lane. I'm not going into detail here, except to say he uses two methods to add speed to his sentences--(1) he chooses short words for simple diction (no flowery language with Hem), and (2) he cuts out commas as much as possible. There are many examples of this technique in A Moveable Feast-

''Often Miss Stein would have no guests and she was always very friendly and for a long time she was affectionate .' Fairly zips along.

The author also covers Hemingway's DICTION, DETAIL AND COLOUR (Imagery), USING 'AND', THE LOOK OF YOUR PAGES (white space), CHARACTERS BASED ON REAL PEOPLE, STRUCTURE (his endings are more memorable than his beginnings. His conclusions are filled with significance made more memorable by foreshadowing throughout his stories.

So ENDINGS--imbue them with symbolic significance and foreshadow final events. Drop subtle hints along the way. Beef up your conclusion with added meaning by making universal or spiritual statements.

So, really, Hemingway did have a lot to offer we writers of modern prose.

No need to feel insecure if  you don't write like Hemingway. But it doesn't hurt to read about him and check how we could improve by following some of his 'rules'.


  • How about you? Are there any writing greats you like to emulate?
  • Are you secure/insecure this month?
  • And in August WEP launches its first challenge, GARDENS. Yolanda Renee has posted about it HERE...






68 comments:

  1. Copy a passage and make it your own. I like that exercise.
    I'd like to write like Preston and Child because their books read like movies.

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    1. I've found it added another element to my writing. Now I don't just skim over things, I add more context/emotion.

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  2. Great information, Denise! Continuous learning is the best way to improve. Something we all need to do to stay relevant in a world where everyone has written a book. That's a great list of authors, I've no doubt that one day you will make such a list!

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    1. Yes, lifelong learning certainly applies to writing! Thanks for your compliment!

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  3. All of those things are important. I was terrible with sentence length in the beginning. It took a lot of effort to learn to throw short sentences in for greater impact.

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    1. The main thing is that we learn and grow. We should all get better over time!

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  4. That sounds like a very insightful book!
    I like the advice to copy it then write your own version. May have to try that!

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    1. It was a great exercise for me Jemi!

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  5. That does sound like a great writing book. Analyzing how the great writers write is so helpful.

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  6. I thought the best way to be like Hemingway was to drink like a fish and get into fights at the drop of a hat? ;-)

    All of my favourite authors are British humourists. I wish I could write like them but I'm not British enough. :-(

    www.cdgallantking.ca

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    1. Humour's no walk in the park! If I was drinking my fill of whisky like Hem I wouldn't get much writing done. All that huntin', shootin' and fishin' and yet he wrote great stories. Well, maybe because of those things. :-)

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  7. I would love to emulate Stephen King in the way he brings characters to life. I love writers that can put symbolism and foreshadowing together for a huge emotional impact. That's the ultimate. Barbara Kingsolver is a master at this as well as Ann Patchett.

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    1. Yes, I love Barbara Kingsolver too, especially Poisonwood Bible.

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  8. Hi, Denise,

    Intersting and informative post. Hemingway is a great example. I OFTEN use short sentences for dramatic affect. Yes, I LOVE my descriptions, but I do economize them when necessary especially in my YA writing.

    How are you? Hope all is well. I disappeared for a while, but I am back. I've missed blogging and I am going to make more of an effort to be in the blogosphere more often.

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    1. Great that you're back Michael! I'm well. Up to my armpits in remodels. I love your descriptions!

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  9. Thank you for this. I sometimes forget not all sentence have to be flowery. Changing it up can be key. :-)

    Anna from elements of emaginette

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    1. I wish we could indulge in our flowery sentences, but apparently we're in the wrong era!

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  10. When Hemmingway was just starting out, he got a job at one of the newspapers in Toronto. Apparently, the old timers were heartless with him. His work was constantly torn apart. Didn't stop him from carrying on, though. I think about that a lot.

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    1. I'd heard that story. Which is why he never stopped believing in short paragraphs. We can always learn someting!

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  11. Hi Denise
    I've been compared to Tolkien who is my favorite author. I've read a few of Hemingway's stories. I think the main thing is to vary your paragraphs. Plus, each genre has different rules. To be sure, it's a good idea to study great writing.
    Nancy

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    1. What an amazing compliment to be likened to Tolkien. And that's so true. :-)

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  12. Hi Denise,

    I use the Hemingway Editor to run though a manuscript after I've edited it. Accepting or not accepting changes is my choice after the run.

    But it is a great help in pointing out flaws.

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    1. I just checked out the Hemingway Editor Nas. Looks great. Glad to hear that you like it.:-)

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  13. "Exquisite" - what a marvelous praise. I'd take exquisite any time.
    Hemingway is not my favorite writer, but I agree with him in regards to the short sentences. In the right place, they add quite a punch to your prose.
    For me personally, as a writer, I'd like to emulate Jennifer Crusie. Sadly, I can't. I just learn from her. Her every book is a gem.

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    1. Hi Olga! I have your post open as it has to be read properly to comment. I want to read those extracts you've posted.

      I love Jennifer Crusie and see you have posted about her too. :-)

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  14. I think you'll have found your mark when people no longer compare you to others, but when they start comparing others to you.

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    1. Wow, Ian, never thought of it that way!

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  15. I never want to stop growing as a writer and am an avid fan how-to books.

    Honestly? I’d love to write like Pat Conroy (I know you’re also an admirer, Denise), but the result never rings true. Despite the 100k word count of my current WIP, I write spare. I start out lush but everything gets pared down, and down, and down. I think (hope) the words still carry emotional resonance, but I’d love to inject more poetry into my work.

    What a lovely compliment from Michael!

    VR Barkowski

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    1. Yep. Pat Conroy has it in spades. Only he can do what he does so exquisitely. I edit heavily too as I'm verbose in my first drafts! But I love editing...

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  16. Exquisite is a lovely word. I'd love for my writing to be called that. ;)

    I like the idea of breaking up sentences into bite-sized morsels. My own sentences can sometimes be long.

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    1. I'm sure many people have thought it Chrys. I like this idea of complimenting each other.

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  17. Alex and I share the same writing idols: Preston & Child. But less in the craft of the prose and more in the unique characters and riveting plots. For prose, I like Robert McCammon. I guess all of us have our personal favorites just like we all have different singer/band favorites, too.

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    1. Hmm. Don't know Prston & Child. Sounds like I should.

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  18. I too admire Michael's work and I value his opinion a lot. And if he has called your work exquisite, then bask in the glow of his praise. Let it motivate you whenever any insecurity walks your way.

    Rachna Chhabria
    Co-host IWSG
    Rachna's Scriptorium

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  19. Michael's opinion also means a lot to me. If he said your work is exquisite, that's high praise! But having read your work, I'd agree with him. It's lush and evocative!
    I've always been a strong believer in mixing paragraphs with long and short sentences. Even those two-word/three-word "incomplete sentences" are effective. It's a way to improve pacing and add interesting rhythm to our story. I think it also adds a sense of immediacy to the work.
    I need to read more Hemingway.
    Lovely post, Denise.
    Writer In Transit

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    1. Thanks Michelle! I'm quite addicted to those short little paragraphs now. Keeps things hopping along.

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  20. It's good to go back and get a refresher/reminder by reading the occasional how-to.
    And what a wonderful compliment!!!

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  21. Hi Denise,
    To be quite honest, I never thought of writing like Hemingway, even though I have read his books and love his style. The writers that have influenced me are women like Catherine Marshall, Phyllis Whitney and Dorothy Sayer. Also Anne Perry and Patricia Cornwell and let me not forget Daphne Du Maurier.
    As for my insecurities, after the A to Z Blog Challenge, I stepped into a deep black hole, but I am tackling it one hour at a time. I'm fine.
    Shalom aleichem,
    Patricia

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    1. My bookshelves have more women on them than men, but Hemingway and Conroy remain my two fave guys, but I read Patterson, Child, Connolly etc for entertainment.

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  22. Great feedback to have said indeed. Getting to that conclusion with subtle hints is a good way to be. I always know the start and end before I start.

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  23. I read lots of writing books too. And really, now that I'm more comfortable with my own style, those books do more for me than they did before.

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    1. They do, yes. Some I still don't get, but I have my faves!

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  24. Thank you for this point by point take on Hemingway's writing! I had to study his writing style in college in one of my writing classes, and had several teachers tell me to simplify my writing.

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  25. Hi, Sis. Superb post, as always. Hemingway and Raymond Carver were/are the authors I emulate. That spare style. Just tell the story! Also, I respond affirmatively to what you say at the beginning: writing comes down to being true to yourself. Which is why you couldn't find my website anncarbinebest. I'm now going to gmail to respond to your letter and tell you why I'm now at http://amormonbestsblog.com. It's night in Australia as I post this, so hope you're sleeping well. You'll get my email in your morning :) :) :)

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    1. Glad you share my love of Hemingway! I'm glad you're being true to yourself, Ann. Can't wait to catch you at your new place!

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  26. Great advice, thanks for sharing. And I like the writing exercise (find a favorite passage by a writer you love, copy it, then write your own.) I'll have to give it a try.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog. :)

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    1. Yes, many have commented on that part of my post!

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  27. Denise, thank you so much for these tips. We can learn a lot from the masters, if we first don't lose faith that we'll never be able to write like them. I'm more of a short and to the point sentence writer myself. And yes, I drown myself with how-to writing books and try so very hard not to feel inadequate while reading them. Thanks for sharing this with your followers. All the best.

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  28. There are some fantasy authors who are so wonderful at world building and complicated plots that I would like to emulate but they're not counted among the greats.

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    1. Yes, there are so many greats out there!

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  29. I guess I have a favorite author in every genre. I really like your technique. I'll be giving it a try. Thanks for sharing.

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  30. "..writing comes down to being true to yourself." A perfect quote.

    My writing great I'd like to emulate is Stephen King, of course. Not just for writing thrillers; but because he knows how to make characters and settings believeable, has great pacing (usually, a couple of his books were difficult to get through) and really knows how to "turn a phrase."

    I used to read a lot of "how to's" also. I still like them sometimes, but found that if you read too many, eventually the books are contradicting each other. Gotta take what you can use, and not be afraid to let some advice go.

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    1. Who wouldn't like to emulate Stephen King, Donna? Great, great, great. I agree with you on the 'how to' books. Some are just too involved and confusing.

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  31. I've read Stephen King's book, On Writing, and Stein's book, but beyond that I've only done this writing thing by trial and error. That's why I'm so slow, I guess. Very lovely compliment by Michael, Denise. You're right to treasure it.

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  32. Fascinating! I think the author that I would most like to emulate would be F. Scott Fitzgerald.

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    1. Wouldn't we all like to write our own Great Gatsby.

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  33. That does sound like a great exercise. I may have to try it when I'm feeling blocked. And "exquisite" is just about the best thing I can imagine being said about writing!

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  34. Your posts are always a treasure trove! Am crazy about Hemingway (as if I didn't say that a million times already!) every bit of his fiction and non-fiction I've had the good fortune to read :) The only things I'd get up nerve enough to emulate are the sentence length and comma use. Totally agree that his style and voice are quite inimitable.

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    1. Sorry about the double post! Dunno what I did :)

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    2. Just thrilled to see you! Glad we share a love of Hem!

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