Wednesday, September 28, 2016

A Little Musing

"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 iceberg 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 in Death in the Afternoon
From Wikimedia Commons,
the free media repository
This 'iceberg' quote has guided much of my short story writing. I dislike heavy-handed prose and try to trust my readers to understand the many layers of the story being told and also to give them the opportunity to bring their own experiences to bear. Write from the heart and the readers will follow. I've often failed, written first drafts that left my first readers in the dark or imagining interpretations and motives which I never intended.

I recently had a writing professor who used the phrase 'risking obviousness,' by which he meant writers sometimes need to be explicit about characters' feelings and motives that the reader may not surmise; quite the opposite of what Hemingway suggests. This led me to wonder what is the 'correct' approach, if any? Is there a formula to when one can be concise and when more exposition is needed? Or is the best path, like with so many things in life, somewhere in between the two?

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