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The Style Sheet That Influenced Hemingway

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This is a copy of the style sheet Ernest Hemingway used while working at The Kansas City Star early in his career as a writer.

It’s a little difficult to read. But if you can read it, there’s still a lot of good, relevant advice in there–especially considering he used it in 1917.

Hemingway said he was heavily influenced by this style sheet throughout his career.

Take a look at the PDF.

Notice the first few sentences in the top left of the page: “Use short sentences. Use short first paragraphs. Use vigorous English.”

Yeah, that’s definitely Hemingway.

Some other excerpts:

  • 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.
  • Say “She was born in Ireland and came to Jackson County in 1874,” not “but came to Jackson County.” She didn’t come here to make amends for being born in Ireland. This is common abuse of the conjunction.
  • “He suffered a broken leg in a fall,” not “he broke his leg in a fall.” He didn’t break the leg, the fall did. Say leg, not his leg, because presumably the man has two legs.
  • Avoid the use of adjectives, especially such extravagant ones as splendid, gorgeous, grand, magnificent, etc.
  • Never use old slang. Slang to be enjoyable must be fresh.
  • 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.

Some cool stuff here.

All of the above is still pretty relevant to today’s writers. The gist of it is simply to be clear and concise.

Read over it and tell me what point stands out most to you.

(Image: Wikimedia Commons)

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23 Comments Post a comment
  1. I love Hemingway so this is really interesting.

    Like

    January 13, 2014
  2. The use of the word “only” has been a grammar peeve of mine for a very long time. It’s refreshing to see someone agree with me.

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    January 13, 2014
  3. Makes interesting reading, thanks!

    Like

    January 13, 2014
  4. I’ve had a similar rule about “and” and “but.” My analogy is that “but” is like a tennis match: a point is raised BUT then a counterpoint is raised, BUT then another argument is raised… etc. The idea is bounced back and forth. But, “and” is like a round of golf: I make a point, AND then I add to it, AND then I add more to it, etc. The idea builds and is enhanced. Both have their place and should not be used interchangeably.

    Like

    January 13, 2014
  5. “A woman of the Name Mary Jones” –Disrespect is attached to the individual in such sentences. Avoid it…Never use it, even when referring to street walkers….
    This is a funny sentence and very true. I love that the newspaper wanted to stay as objective as possible, no matter the level of that person in society

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    January 13, 2014
  6. Great stuff. I’ve got a picture of Papa on my desk to remind me.

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    January 13, 2014
  7. Reblogged this on Author Sean T. Smith and commented:
    There is some wisdom here. I love Hemingway, and this is some insight into the mechanics of his work.

    Like

    January 13, 2014
  8. My grandmother lived in Cuba for years and she took a copy of Old Man and the Sea to the bar where Hemingway spent many happy hours. He signed it for her. Thanks for the interesting post!

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    January 13, 2014
  9. Only the good … ones ?

    Like

    January 13, 2014
  10. Fantastic to see this document Robert. What stands out for me, as a writer , aside from general grammatical issues, is the need to be concise and precise. E.g Not ‘Several fountain pens were stolen’ Give the actual number. This is so true of Hemingway , but a good guideline for all writers. Thanks so much for the post.

    Like

    January 13, 2014
  11. Great find!

    Like

    January 13, 2014
  12. Me encanta Hemingway. Leí muchas novelas de él. A todas las tengo presentes, y también las releo. Lamento que haya decidido terminar con su vida, cosa que algunos descendientes hicieron igual.¿ Culpamos a los genes?
    Teresa

    Like

    January 13, 2014
  13. Great. Very interesting. Thanks for sharing the sheet! I wasn’t aware of the but/and issue.

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    January 13, 2014
  14. The beginning of the style sheet says it all: “Use short sentences. Use short first paragraphs. Use vigorous English. Be positive, not negative.”

    Like

    January 13, 2014
  15. Michelle Rene Goodhew #

    Reblogged this on WRITE HERE – WRITE NOW.

    Like

    January 14, 2014
  16. Reblogged this on Viewpoints.

    Like

    January 14, 2014
  17. Reblogged this on Where the Mind Roams and commented:
    Hemingway, why do you keep impressing me?

    Like

    January 14, 2014
  18. I love Hemingway and all of his work, so this is very interesting for me. It is fascinating how he developed his gift. I write about him much on my own literary blog, so I’m always looking for more info on his craft as a writer. Great post!

    Like

    January 14, 2014
  19. Reblogged this on weaklingwarrior.

    Like

    January 14, 2014
  20. Reblogged this on if you are a dreamer, come in … and commented:
    I’ll be the first to admit that Hemingway was not and still isn’t among my favorite writers or even my influencers. But that doesn’t mean I can’t acknowledge him as a powerhouse writer, and it doesn’t stop me from wondering what helped him develop that iconic style (that just isn’t my taste.) So when I see a title like this, I sit up and take note. It’s definitely worth a look, and there are some excellent points I can learn a lot from, I know. Even if Old Man and the Sea never finds a home in my bookshelf.

    Like

    January 17, 2014
  21. Reblogged on .

    Like

    January 17, 2014
  22. Reblogged on A Wisher, A Liar. Reposting because I made a regrettable CSS error, and hoping I’ve fixed it this time …

    Like

    January 17, 2014
  23. Liz #

    Love this! Will be sharing.

    Like

    January 17, 2014

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