Ernest Hemingway and The Theory Of Omission

According to Jenna Blum in The Author at Work, “Hemingway said that only the tip of the iceberg showed in fiction—your reader will see only what is above the water—but the knowledge that you have about your character that never makes it into the story acts as the bulk of the iceberg. And that is what gives your story weight and gravitas.”

In A Moveable Feast, Hemingway states, “….. my new theory that you could omit anything … and the omitted part would strengthen the story”

In Hemingway’s essay, The Art of the Short Story he further elaborates, “A few things I have found to be true. If you leave out important things or events that you know about, the story is strengthened. If you leave or skip something because you do not know it, the story will be worthless. The test of any story is how very good the stuff that you, not your editors, omit.”

hemingway-spots-key-west

What does all of this mean to those of us who enjoy writing short stories? Is it simply less is more?

The answer is yes and no. Yes, less is more. But no, not simply because it is less. What the author writes may in fact be less, at the same time, there must be more.

The writer must know what elements are omitted. He or she can not simply skip a part of the story because they aren’t sure what it is, hoping the reader will fill in the blanks. What is omitted, must be known to the author. If the author doesn’t know what is omitted, don’t expect the reader to understand the true meaning of the story, because in this case, what is omitted – will have no meaning and neither will the story.

Short Story Scribe


 

 

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