Hemingway’s Advice for Storytellers

Hemmingway, via my friend David Habecker:


I ran across this reference to Hemingway today and thought you might appreciate it, with its obvious application to much so-called “Christian literature”:

“No good book has ever been written that has in it symbols arrived at beforehand and stuck in,” says Hemingway. “That kind of symbol sticks out like raisins in raisin bread. Raisin bread is all right, but plain bread is better.” He opens two bottles of beer and continues: “I tried to make a real old man, a real boy, a real sea and a real fish and real sharks. But if I made them good and true enough they would mean many things. The hardest thing is to make something really true and sometimes truer than true.”

The quote is from an article about Hemingway in TIME as referenced on Andrew Sullivan’s blog “The Daily Dish.”

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Jeffrey Overstreet has relaunched a bigger, better version of this blog at LookingCloser.org. The new Looking Closer doesn't have any of the trashy click-bait advertisements that you're probably seeing all over this Patheos page. So give yourself a break.

  • facesunveiled

    I think it has more to do with how creative and fresh the symbols are than when/how they become symbols or when they’re inserted. The taxidermied whale in Werckmeister Harmonies, for example, is what I’d call a freestanding symbol, but it’s just so startling and mysterious that I still can’t get it out of my head. I didn’t think The Prince character was nearly as interesting, by the way.

  • joelpk

    Hi Jeffrey,
    That quote rings true.
    I just finished an audio book of “The Old Man and the Sea”, read by Mr. Charlton Heston. Those were the realest characters I’ve come across in a long time. (And the reader resisted the urge to add “I will turn aside and see this great sight” with teeth clenched.)