Monday, November 18, 2013

What we can learn from Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway, 1916.
The great novelist, also a writer of nonfiction, began his career as a reporter at the Kansas City Star, where he followed the newspaper's 110 rules for writing.

``Those were the best rules I ever learned for the business of writing,'' Hemingway said in 1940. ``I've never forgotten them. No man with any talent, who feels and writes truly about the thing he is trying to say, can fail to write well if he abides with them.''

Here is a selection of these timeless rules:
Use short sentences. Use short first paragraphs. Use vigorous English. Be positive, not

Never use old slang. Such words as stunt, cut out, got his goat, come across, sit up and
take notice, put one over, have no place after their use becomes common. Slang to be
enjoyable must be fresh.

Watch you sequence of tenses. “He said he knew the truth, not “He said he knows the
truth.” “The community was amazed to hear that Charles Wakefield was a thief,” not was
amazed to hear that Charles Wakefield is a thief.”

Eliminate every superfluous word as “Funeral services will be at 2 o’clock Tuesday,” not
“The funeral services will be held at the hour of 2 o’clock on Tuesday.” He said is better
than he said in the course of conversation.

Be careful of the word “only.” “He only had $10,” means he alone was the possessor of
such wealth.” “He had only $10,” means the ten was all the cash he possessed.

Avoid the use of adjectives, especially such extravagant ones as splendid, gorgeous,
grand, magnificent, etc.
Here are several I'm a stickler about:
A long quotation with out introducing the speaker makes a poor lead especially and is
bad at any time. Break into the quotation as soon as you can. thus: “I should prefer,” the
speaker said, “to let the reader know who I am as soon as possible.”

“He saw more than one thousand ducks flying” – not “over one thousand ducks.” Also
say “fewer than” instead of “less than,” when numbers, not quantity, are considered. It is
proper to write “He had more than $10.”
``Hemingway was a big, brutal son-of-a-bitch,'' recalled Emmet Crozier, the playwright who was on The Star's sports staff at the time. Hemingway dogged Moise's steps, listening to his theories about tying paragraphs together so they couldn't be cut; that pure objective writing is the only form of story telling; and lamenting ``the regrettable indication of a great nation's literary taste when it chooses a national anthem beginning with the words, `Oh, say.' ''

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