Write like Hemingway?

Want the maximum readability when you’re writing? Then you need the Hemingway App. A free website (or $10 app) that edits your prose for readability and simplicity. Such fun to try a few lines of a book and see how it does.

Hemingway’s theory of omission is that the writer ought to write all the backstory of a character but then cut anything that isn’t necessary, because the reader will pick up on all the context and the character will feel truer. He focused on using the least and most simple phrasing that he could, with the idea that the “iceberg” of the characters is 90% under the water.

I’m not sure if I always agree, but I do think that many books could be served by providing fewer and stronger phrases that leave more to the reader’s imagination. Given that attention spans and vocabularies are getting smaller, rather than fight this tendency, why not embrace it?

Here’s an excerpt from my book, A Cup for the Dead:

Rhoda Hervé looked down at her husband from their balcony at Shepheard’s Hotel in Cairo. He was a small but erect figure with a drink in hand as he went along the terrace, stopping here and there at tables along the railing. The guests would all be properly awed by the great man in his glory, the discoverer of Queen Nefrina’s tomb.

A pity he had begun so soon, she thought irritably.

Hemingway App rates this as Grade 8, overall good, but that my second sentence is hard to read.

If I make some changes, I can get Grade 7 with only a complaint about adverbs:

Rhoda Hervé looked down at her husband from their balcony at Shepheard’s Hotel in Cairo. He was a small but erect figure with a drink in hand as he went along the terrace, stopping here and there at tables along the railing. The guests would all be properly awed by the great man in his glory, the discoverer of Queen Nefrina’s tomb.

A pity he had begun so soon, she thought.

I think it’s an interesting exercise, regardless of whether you follow the advice or not. It helps us think about sentence construction and vocabulary that we choose.

PS: You can get an excellent and short overview of his top 7 tips from Open Culture.

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3 thoughts on “Write like Hemingway?

  1. I was reading quite a bit of Anthony Trollope when I was about 20, and the result was that I often wrote like Trollope instead….

    [First, a description of Cairo, and what the author thinks of Cairo, and what the author thinks you, the reader, should think of Cairo; then a description of the Shepheard’s Hotel and what the author thinks of it….]
    From the balcony, Mrs. Hervé looked down to the terrace where her husband, Mr. Hervé, promenaded among the tables. He was an erect little figure, still carrying himself with that graceful aplomb which comes so naturally to the young roué and which so unfortunately is lost with years of dissolution. You must not imagine, however, that no dissolution touched upon the life of this august gentleman: certainly, there was a degree of censure in his wife’s eyes as she observed him from on high. Rather, he stood upon that respectable precipice in between the clear, open fields where one is jolly and gay and acknowledged by all to be a good sport, and that terrible abyss where mothers would keep one away from their daughters rather than their daughters away from one. For Mr. Hervé, this respectable precipice was perhaps augmented by his reputation as an archaeologist, which encourages a certain indulgence in the mind of the susceptible public; for one cannot always adhere to the law of grey morning coats when one is surrounded by the interminable dust of an Egyptian dig, and certain amenities and civilities must be relinquished in favour of more practical concerns. Away from these inconveniences, however, Mr. Hervé shone as the brightest diadem on the brow of Civilisation: he was a gentleman again, and, more than that, he had come away from the trials and tribulations of the dig with the discovery of the ancient tomb of Queen Nefrina, of whom the popular press has made such a to-do of late. There was no doubt but that the guests tonight would be properly awed by so great a man and so great a glory.

    But Mrs. Hervé could only think of the situtation with irritation. It was, she thought, a great pity that he should have begun so soon.

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