Hemingway’s “Iceberg Theory” of Writing
If a writer of prose knows enough of what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an ice-berg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. A writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing. –Ernest Hemingway
Before I wrap up The Sun Also Rises (review coming tomorrow), I thought I’d take one more look at Hemingway’s writing style.
He called it the “Iceberg Theory,” and it’s a great descriptor of his style.
Essentially, he gives you the facts—those hard facts are the tip of the iceberg floating above water. Everything else—the supporting structure—floats beneath the water, out of sight from the reader.
The way Hemingway describes it, there’s almost a sense of ESP between writer and reader. If the writer does his job, the reader almost innately gets a sense of the underlying story, even without all the details.
Biographer Carlos Baker said that since Hemingway began his career writing short stories, he learned how to “get the most from the least, how to prune language how to multiply intensities, and how to tell nothing but the truth in a way that allowed for telling more than the truth.”
So if you think Hemingway’s short and simple style was out of laziness or ignorance, you couldn’t be more wrong. He was very purposeful and intentional about why he wrote the way he wrote. It might look simple, but it’s not simple.
Thoughts on the Iceberg Theory?