Hemingway's Writing Style

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Hemingway's Writing Style

By | Feb. 2013
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From almost the beginning of his writing career, Hemingway's distinctive style occasioned a great deal of comment and controversy. Basically, his style is simple, direct, and unadorned, probably as a result of his early newspaper training. He avoids the adjective whenever possible, but because he is a master at transmitting emotion without the flowery prose of his Victorian novelist predecessors, the effect is far more telling. In Observations on the Style of Ernest Hemingway, from "Contexts of Criticism" by Harry Levin (Harvard University Press, 1957), the critic says: "Hemingway puts his emphasis on nouns because, among other parts of speech, they come closest to things. Stringing them along by means of conjunctions, he approximates the actual flow of experience."

Hemingway has often been described as a master of dialog, and most readers agree, upon being first introduced to his writing, that "this is the way these characters would really talk." It is interesting to note, however, that Hemingway's one attempt at playwriting was a failure. Actually, a close examination of his dialog will reveal that this is rarely the way people really speak. The effect is accomplished, rather, by the calculated emphasis and repetition which makes us remember what has been said.

Since the critics cannot entirely agree on Hemingway's style, perhaps the best way is to put it into the author's own words. Shortly before his tragic death, Hemingway gave to the Wisdom Foundation in California a collection of his observations on life and art, love and death. They were published in the January 1963, issue of Playboy magazine, and in them Hemingway said of his writing:

I do most of my work in my head. I never begin to write until my ideas are in order. Frequently I recite passages of dialogue as it is being written; the ear is a good censor. I never set down a sentence on paper until I have it so expressed that it will be clear to anyone.

Yet, I sometimes think that my style...