Ernest Hemingway was a literary giant who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954.
Highly regarded to this day, he was known for his “minimalist” writing style—characterized by its simplicity, straightforwardness, and the use of short, simple sentences. His writing conveyed a lot of information with few words, creating short, punchy, and engaging stories.
In this digital age today, having everyone fighting for “attention” with their words—it’s now more important than ever to write well if you want any chance to be seen and have your work noticed.
But, sadly, even in 2022, good writing is scarce.
Huge blocks of text, lack of white space, and boring sentences with zero rhythm is all too common.
Let’s explore how writers can emulate Hemingway’s unique style.
Focus on simplicity
The key to Hemingway’s writing style was simplicity.
He chose his words carefully, using only those that were necessary to convey his meaning, and he preferred short, declarative sentences that were easy to understand.
This made his stories enjoyable to read with a poetic quality.
One example of Hemingway’s use of simplicity can be found in his short story “Hills Like White Elephants.”
An example excerpt:
‘What should we drink?’ the girl asked. She had taken off her hat and put it on the table.
‘It’s pretty hot,’ the man said.
‘Let’s drink beer.’
‘Dos cervezas,’ the man said into the curtain.
‘Big ones?’ a woman asked from the doorway.
‘Yes. Two big ones.’
In this passage, Hemingway uses simple dialogue and brief, declarative sentences to convey the conversation between the two characters. The language is straightforward and easy to understand, and the short sentences help to create a sense of immediacy and tension in the conversation.
Overall, Hemingway’s focus on simplicity in his writing helped him to convey complex ideas in a clear and concise way.
And it allowed him to create powerful stories that had a “lasting impact” on the reader.
Use short sentences
Another hallmark of Hemingway’s style was his use of short sentences. He rarely wrote more than one sentence on a single line in his manuscripts—each sentence stood alone as its own thought.
This approach gives readers a sense of immediacy; it keeps them engaged as they quickly move from one sentence to the next without getting bogged down in long-winded explanations or descriptions.
Short sentences also give writers more room to be creative; they allow writers to express their ideas in fewer words while still conveying all the information.
However, Hemingway’s use of short sentences was not without its challenges. Conveying complex ideas or providing detailed descriptions using only short sentences can be difficult, and writers must be careful to ensure that their message is not lost in the brevity of their language.
Despite these challenges, Hemingway’s use of short sentences played a key role in his overall writing style.
It contributed to the simplicity and clarity of his writing and helped to create a sense of immediacy and engagement for the reader.
Short sentences allowed Hemingway to be creative and expressive, conveying complex emotions and ideas in fewer words while still maintaining their impact.”
Punchy (conversational) dialogue
Hemingway was also known for his punchy dialogue—short conversations between two characters that got right to the point without wasting any time on unnecessary details or backstories.
This approach allowed him to quickly establish relationships between characters while still conveying important plot points in just a few lines of dialogue.
Hemingway’s dialogue often had a conversational tone that made it feel natural and realistic—as if you were actually listening in on two people talking instead of reading a script written by an author.
15 tips to emulate Hemingway:
Keep it simple: Hemingway believed in using simple language to convey complex ideas. Avoid using overly complex words and sentences, and aim for clarity and concision in your writing.
Use short sentences: Hemingway was known for his use of short, simple sentences. Use short sentences to keep your writing punchy and engaging.
Vary your sentence length: While Hemingway favored short sentences, he also knew the importance of varying sentence length to keep the reader engaged. Mix up your sentence lengths to add rhythm and flow to your writing.
Use active verbs: Hemingway was a master of using active verbs to add energy and movement to his writing. Avoid passive verbs and use active ones to bring your writing to life.
Show, don’t tell: Hemingway believed in using specific, concrete details to show the reader what is happening, rather than telling them. Use descriptive language to paint a vivid picture for the reader.
Avoid unnecessary adjectives and adverbs: Hemingway’s writing is known for its sparseness and lack of ornamentation. Avoid using unnecessary adjectives and adverbs that add nothing to your writing.
Use dialogue: Hemingway was a master of using dialogue to advance the plot and reveal character. Use dialogue to add depth and complexity to your writing.
Avoid unnecessary exposition: Hemingway believed in letting the reader figure things out for themselves. Avoid using too much exposition and trust the reader to understand what is happening.
Use simple, direct language: Hemingway’s writing is known for its simplicity and directness. Avoid using overly complex language and aim for clarity in your writing.
Edit ruthlessly: Hemingway was a master of revision and believed in cutting out anything that didn’t serve the story. Edit your writing ruthlessly to remove anything that is unnecessary or doesn’t add to the story.
Read Hemingway’s work: The best way to learn how to write like Hemingway is to read his work. Pay attention to his use of language, sentence structure, and storytelling techniques, and try to incorporate those elements into your own writing.
Write about what you know: Hemingway often wrote about his own experiences, and this authenticity is one of the things that makes his writing so compelling. Write about what you know and draw on your own experiences to add depth and richness to your writing.
Write about big themes: Hemingway was interested in exploring big, universal themes in his writing, such as love, war, and the human condition. Try to write about themes that are important to you and that have the potential to resonate with a wide audience.
Experiment with point of view: Hemingway was a master of using different points of view to tell his stories. Experiment with using different points of view in your writing to see how it affects the way the story is told.
Keep writing: Hemingway believed in the importance of writing every day, and he often wrote for several hours a day. Keep writing and practicing, and you will improve your skills over time.
Writing like Ernest Hemingway requires practice.
But it is far from impossible.
Following these tips will help you get started:
- Don’t waste time on unnecessary details or backstories.
- Create punchy dialogue that gets straight to the point.
- Focus on simplicity in your language choices.
- Use short sentences and focus on rhythm.
By following these guidelines and studying Hemingway’s works for inspiration, you too—with time and patience—can write like one of literature’s greatest authors.
Oh, and check out this cool little app to improve your writing.