Some More Thoughts on Ernest Hemingway

In today’s Journal

* Quotes of the Day
* Some More Thoughts on Ernest Hemingway
* You Can’t Make This Shup
* Of Interest

Quotes of the Day

“Ernest Hemingway’s signature style broke the mold. His short, declarative sentences, intentional repetition, and general absence of adjectives were a departure from the style of every previous novelist.” Jessica Leader

“It’s hard to imagine a writer who hasn’t been affected by him. He changed the furniture in the room.” Author Tobias Wolff

“It is enough that the people know there was an election. The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything.” Joseph Stalin

“Ideas are more powerful than guns. We would not let our enemies have guns, why should we let them have ideas.” Joseph Stalin

Some More Thoughts on Ernest Hemingway

I don’t think Ernest Hemingway wrote into the dark, not that it matters. I’ve heard others whom I respect say that he did, but I don’t believe it. His output wasn’t large enough for one thing. But more importantly, much of what he wrote wasn’t even fiction. More than anything, I believe, he engaged in reportáge.

Certainly he wrote some fiction, most notably The Old Man and the Sea, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and some of his short stories. I’m certain he himself never actually lived those two experiences, at least not to the extent that the characters lived them, and I’m almost certain he wasn’t the “Nick” in the diner when the two killers came in in the short story “The Killers.”

But mostly he wrote memoir in both his long and short fictions, although he certainly fictionalized the names of most of the characters.

That said, I see nothing wrong with it. A story is a story is a story. Writing fiction is a way of remembering something that hasn’t happened yet. As I used to tell students in my seminars, even memoir is more akin to fiction than nonfiction because it’s how only one person remembers an event or a series of events.

If you don’t believe me, write a memoir about an event in your childhood, then send it around to your siblings. They will quickly point out where you “erred,” which means where you remembered something in a different way than they remembered it.

Neither of you is wrong, of course. You simply remember the same event differently, having experienced it from a different perspective.

I can almost hear some of you wanting to say “But a memoir is of an event or series of events that actually happened.” You’re right, of course. And so is a fiction an event or series of events that actually happened, at least to the characters who lived it.

But I digress. There is still a difference between fiction and memoir, slight though it may be. Parts of Hemingway’s memoirs were fictionalized, maybe to take the memory in a direction in which perhaps he wished it would have gone. Or more likely, maybe just to enhance the story.

Hemingway’s contemporaries (and therefore his literary rivals) were the likes of William Faulkner, John Dos Passos, Gertrude Stein, and F. Scott Fitzgerald among many, many others.

But whereas those great novelists were writing fiction informed to one degree or another by their own lives, prejudices and observations, Hemingway mostly wrote the events of his life. The biggest fictions in most of his stories and novels were the names of the characters.

A Short Story Memoir

I became interested in exploring Hemingway all over again because yesterday I wrote a short story memoir—a combination of the two forms—and I had an epiphany.

And yes, before you ask, I still wrote that story memoir into the dark. I didn’t plot or plan anything or even devise where or when to insert memories of actual events. They just popped in where the characters wanted them.

I also decided not to publish the story until after it appears as a story of the week. Yesterday I went through my files. I formatted and uploaded all of my unpublished stories to as pre-scheduled posts, then uploaded the same stories to release from my StanbroughWrites substack 15 minutes after they go live on the website.

The story memoir, “Ten Tight Indians,” is currently scheduled to post on June 17, both at StanbroughWrites and on the Substack account by the same name, so you’ll see it then.

Anyway, the epiphany—as I finished that short story memoir, it occurred to me that many if not most of Hemingway’s “fictional” works were that same hybrid form.

To me, that’s fascinating, especially because I teach that even when writing “pure fiction” the writer’s only job is to “report” the story as it’s unfolding. And as I’ve mentioned before, even Stephen King agrees. He calls himself his characters’ stenographer.

As an aside, my novel Confessions of a Professional Psychopath was also a hybrid. It was roughly one-third memoir and two-thirds fiction. But unlike yesterday’s short story memoir, which I intentionally set out to write in that form, I wrote Confessions without realizing that’s what I was doing.

Go figure.

But the great writer’s primary legacy isn’t even what he wrote but how he wrote it, his bare-bones, straightforward style. And at least some folks believe that style actually was pioneered by a writer named Ellen N. La Motte (see “Of Interest”). Regardless, La Motte and Hemingway were still different writers, and therefore would have delivered that style in different ways.

Recommended Reading

As I mentioned recently, I strongly recommend reading The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway: The Finca Vigia Edition. (The new paperback is actually less expensive than the Kindle edition.)

After that, I recommend reading all of his novels (there are only 10) and all of his nonfictions, of which there are only 9, including Ernest Hemingway on Writing. At the moment, that paperback is also less expensive than the Kindle edition.

I’ll end this awkward essay with Hemingway’s 4 Rules for Writing Well:

1. Use short sentences.
2. Use short first paragraphs.
3. Use vigorous English.
4. Be positive, not negative.

I will immediately add that Hemingway himself often broke rules 1 and 2. But I also assert that those two are the benchmarks of his style, the techniques that so vividly flavor his works.

I have to note also that in addition to the overall story, Hemingway focused on perfecting individual sentences. One of his more famous bits of advice is, “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”

Focusing on the sentence level is not something most writers would be able to do well, if at all, and still manage to write a smooth, cohesive story into the dark. If you want to try it, more power to you, but don’t let it drag open a door through which your conscious, critical mind can enter. If you have to choose, focus on Story and let the sentences take care of themselves.

You Can’t Make This Shup

See the article, “Does ChatGPT produce fishy briefs?” in which ChatGPT is prompted to produce legal briefs regarding the California Court of Appeal, Third District, decision that “bumblebees are in fact ‘fish’ because they’re invertebrates.” You know, like all other fish.

Okay. Well, that’s California for you. Actually, bees don’t have a spine because they have an exoskeleton. You know, like most other insects. One would think that wouldn’t be difficult to understand even in California.

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

See “Did a censored female writer inspire Hemingway’s famous style?” at About Ellen N. La Motte. She “wrote a collection of interrelated stories titled The Backwash of War.” I bought the collection, and I can hardly wait to read them.

See “Elisa Lam’s Ghastly Death at the Notorious Cecil Hotel in L.A.” at

The Numbers

The Journal…………………………………… 1300 words

Writing of “Five Tight Indians” (memoir/story)

Day 1…… 4862 words. Total words to date…… 4862 Done

Writing of Wes Crowley: Deputy US Marshal 2 (WCG9SF4)

Day 1…… 3231 words. Total words to date…… 3231
Day 2…… 2990 words. Total words to date…… 6221
Day 3…… 1805 words. Total words to date…… 8026
Day 4…… 2025 words. Total words to date…… 10051

Total fiction words for February……… 5951
Total fiction words for 2023………… 52824
Total nonfiction words for February… 20050
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 40400
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 93224

Calendar Year 2023 Novels to Date…………………… 1
Calendar Year 2023 Novellas to Date……………… 0
Calendar Year 2023 Short Stories to Date… 0
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 72
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 8
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 217
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31

Disclaimer: Because It Makes Sense, I preach trusting your characters to tell the story that they, not you, are living. Duh. See My Best Advice for Fiction Writers at

10 thoughts on “Some More Thoughts on Ernest Hemingway”

  1. Talking about Hemingway’s style, I’m not sure was Ellen N. La Motte the beginner. The same clear pale style is widely used by Anton Chekhov (his short stories was translated a lot to English at 1910th). The description of mill at the night in his short story “The Wolf” was truly shock for critics. It’s just two short sentences:

    There was not a shred of shadow on the dam, bathed in moonlight; in the middle of it, the neck of a broken bottle glittered like a star. The two wheels of the mill, half-hidden in the shade of a wide willow, looked angrily, dejectedly…

    “Brevity is the sister of talent”, he wrote in a letter to his brother Alexander. Actually, he became classic only with his short stories (his only novel is murder mystery “A Hunting Incident”).
    Another his famous quote is first sentence of “The Lady with the Dog”. He described small resort town in Crimea, full of sun and boredom, just with one sentence, bringing reader to the depth with the first step:

    It was said that a new person had appeared on the sea-front: a lady with a little dog.

    But Chekhov wasn’t the first, he was ancestor of late stories by Leo Tolstoy, who, being disappointed in his three greatnnovels, decided to write simple, easy-reading stories for kids and peasants. Just check his “How Much Land Does a Man Need?” (James Joyce wrote to his daughter that it is “the greatest story that the literature of the world knows”).
    And even Leo Tolstoy wasn’t the first – another great influence on Chekhov was Vsevolod Garshin, who wrote just a couple of short stories during his short life, using a lot his own expirience of Russo-Turkish War (“Four Days”, “Officer and Soldier-Servant”, “From the Reminiscences of Private Ivanov”), asylum expiriences during shizophrenia attacks (“The Red Flower”, “A Night”) and just social disorder of his age (“Attalea Princeps”, “The Signal”).

    “The Signal” is still shocks me, it’s a true dramatic thriller on 3 pages. It can be found here:

    • Thanks for the comment, Rikki, and the link. I have only ordered La Motte’s collection of stories. I have not read it yet, so I haven’t offered an opinion on how her stories or writing style compares with Hemingway’s. Your argument probably should be aimed at the original post by Cynthia Wachtell. It is she, not I, who claims La Motte’s spare style of writing is the same as what is called Hemingway’s style.

      But I should point out that Wachtell probably meant “among English writers,” not worldwide, though to be sure you’d have to take up the question with her.

      If I personally wanted to compare an English writer’s style with the style of a writer who writes in any language other than English, I would want to read each writer’s work in his or her own original language, not in translation. Since I am unable to do that, I’ll stick to writing about writers who write in English, and maybe some Spanish. I can only assume the writers you mentioned compare well with Hemingway in their original language. In translation, in my opinion, not so much.

      Either way, after Ms. La Motte’s collection arrives and I’ve read it, I probably will form an opinion of whether I personally believe her writing style compares with Hemingway’s writing style. If I’m in the right mood afterward, I might talk about it more in the Journal, but I won’t be comparing Hemingway’s work to authors worldwide but only to those who write in English and of whom I’m aware.

      • I’ve checked what the people of their times told about influences. A lot of authors mention Chekhov’s influence, Hemingway himself said that “Chekhov was an amateur writer and only 6 of his stories are perfect”

        • Okey, one, that was only Hemingway’s opinion, and two, he was widely known for saying things he didn’t mean about other writers just to get a reporter to sit up and take notice. The important thing is what YOU think of Chekhov, not what Hemingway or anyone else thought of him.

          • I would agree that Hemingway was more like joking saying such a stuff. And of course their biographies are different – Chekhov started like Mark Twain, from humor stories for popular newspapers, and even his “serious” stories like “Sleepy”, “The Petcheneg” or “Ward No6” are full of humor (but very dark one). Also he never worked as reporter, he was general practitioner and then chief medical officer, so of course his voice is very different from Hemingway.
            It’s common joke that a lot of writers studied in medical universities, some studied in tech (Dostoevsky was a military engineer by main education), only a few in humanitarian arts and just zero in Maxim Gorky Literature Institute.

          • Yes, over here many of the better writers studied a science, often engineering, before becoming writers. If I had it to do over again I would have done the same.

  2. Hi Harvey,

    I’m curious. As a writer, how much time do you spend on a typical day for reading?

    • I read online about 2 hours per day on average, blogs and websites that interest me. Much of that I pass along in the Journal “Of Interest” section. I read fiction in spurts, as I have time among the other normal “life” things I do: chores and errands, caregiving, other kinds of entertainment, etc. So probably like pretty much anyone else. Some days I might read two or three hours, some days a few minutes here and there, some days not at all.

  3. I downloaded and listened to a public domain recording of Ellen Newbold La Motte’s The Backwash of War:

    I found #12 A Citation to be both devastating and heartbreaking.
    France suffered grievously before the other allies entered the war for real.

    I’m going to read a copy of her work and see what her words on the page do for me.

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