Monday, April 15, 2013

Ernest Hemingway's Iceberg Theory

Family emergency calls for recycled post. Hope to see you all next week.

I attended a fantastic workshop presented by author Cinda Williams Chima on creating compelling characters.  Something Ms. Chima mentioned that's helped her develop the intriguing characters of her YA fantasy novels is Ernest Hemingway's Iceberg Theory

A Young Ernest Hemingway
If you're like me, and not familiar with that theory, here's what it is, courtesy of Wikipedia:

In 1923 Hemingway conceived of the idea of a new theory of writing after finishing his short story "Out of Season". In A Moveable Feast, his posthumously published memoirs about his years as a young writer in Paris, he explains: "I omitted the real end [of "Out of Season"] which was that the old man hanged himself. This was omitted on my new theory that you could omit anything ... and the omitted part would strengthen the story." In the opening chapter of Death in the Afternoon he compares his theory about writing to an iceberg.

Hemingway biographer Carlos Baker believed that as a writer of short stories Hemingway learned "how to get the most from the least, how to prune language and avoid waste motion, how to multiply intensities, and how to tell nothing but the truth in a way that allowed for telling more than the truth." Furthermore, Baker explains that in the writing style of the iceberg theory the hard facts float above water, while the supporting structure, complete with symbolism, operates out-of-sight.

The Tip of the Iceberg
So what the audience reads is only the tip if the iceberg! Just think of all the back story and info dumps you’ve cut from your finished novels and short stories. You know a lot more about your narrative than your reader ever will—and that makes for a much richer story.  In addition, all that hidden information can go into creating a sequel!

Had you ever heard of Hemingway’s Iceberg Theory? If not, have you been using it without knowing there was a term for it? Thanks for visiting!

5 comments:

Maria Perry Mohan said...

Hi Maria, the iceberg theory is a concept really rather than a method. ut it's a useful one. Like you should have a bio for each character in your novel, even if you never mention the university they went to or what their first job was. But you should know it all the same as it does make for a richer story.

Saumya said...

This is great and I didn't know about it! I'm reading The Paris Wife (about Hemingway's start as a writer from the perspective of his first wife) so this was especially interesting.

The Desert Rocks said...

Hope all is okay with your family.

Norma Beishir said...

I had been using it--but didn't know what it was called! (And it is good for creating sequels--William and I have found that to be the case involving a secondary character in our joint project.)

William Kendall said...

I have heard of the iceberg theory, and even before I knew it, I was making use of the general terms.