Why Did Hemingway Wrote The Old Man And The Sea Writing 101: The Short Story

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Writing 101: The Short Story

The most difficult and easiest task of all writing is the Short Story. It’s easy if you have a great idea. It’s impossible if you don’t. To me the best short story ever written is The Book of Job. The most beautiful short story is The Book of Ruth. The best modern short story is Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea.

Now you will say, The Old Man and the Sea is a short novel. Well you are right and I’m right. Let’s keep it that way so that we remain friends. The Old Man and the Sea has the elements needed in a good short story except as you said, it’s too long if you put a length limit on short stories. My novels are “short” stories if you compare them based only on length to War and Peace. They do not have the elements of a short story. Well, maybe the first chapter of Revenge on the Mogollon Rim does.

In a novel you can wonder hither and yawn and your readers will not only enjoy it, but they will forgive you. In the short story, you must stick to the point. The “point” is the whole purpose of the short story.

Edgar Allen Poe was the greatest writer from Boston. I put it that way as to not offend the other greatest writers. I hope it doesn’t offend Poe. I don’t want him haunting me every night. Some of his poems are short stories that he didn’t stretch out. His short stories are weird but poignant. He invented the detective story.

Poe was found delirious in a Baltimore gutter and died on October 7, 1849 (see http://www.online-literature.com/poe/). Also, Hemingway shot himself up the road a few miles from here. One mustn’t take short story writing too seriously. That is why I’ve remained a hack writer. I call myself “Taylor Jones, the hack writer” to remind me of that fact.

Hemingway learned his writing techniques from the Kansas City Star. He said, “Those were the best rules I ever learned for the business of writing. I’ve never forgotten them.” Here are the rules: short sentences, short paragraphs, active verbs, authenticity, compression, clarity and immediacy. (See http://www.lostgeneration.com/childhood.htm.) Go sit in a corner and memorize these rules. You will need them to write a good short story.

A short story is usually less than 35,000 words (a good deal less). It combines economy with unity. I know this is true because my old college text says so. Economy means it is short. Long character descriptions are out. Long scene descriptions are out. Please, no panoramic war scenes. Unity means that you don’t leave anything “important” out. It must be there in brief form or implied. If I say a man is a railroad worker, I don’t have to put him in overalls, do I?

You must remember emphasis and subordination. My old text says so. In other words, “What’s hot and what’s not?” Emotions, settings, the theme (only one allowed), must be fused snugly together. Here are some examples:

The Book of Ruth: A clever lady snags a husband.

Heart of Darkness: A weird jungle tale by Joseph Conrad. Speaking of MOOD! The horror!

Miss Brill: Katherine Mansfield tells of an old lady losing her self esteem due to thoughtless comments of youngsters. This story is sad.

The Killers: Hemingway’s famous story about how Nick Adams is more concerned about death by assassination then is the elected victim.

For Esmé-with Love and Squalor: The story about a little girl and a soldier. You must read this story by J. D. Salinger. Have a hankerchef at the ready.

The Book of Job: The devil picks on God’s servant, Job.

Let’s write a short story now.

First, take an idea, hook one end to the shady side of your barn and the other end to your mule walking south. Your idea is a wide rubber band. As the mule walks and stretches the band, the band narrows. When it reaches what we engineers call its elastic limit, it will break. Just before it breaks, it is War and Peace. When stretched thin, it is still a novel. Somewhere before that you have a short story.

Now think of point of view. First person is good. Poe liked this view. At any rate, don’t go beyond what the protagonist can see and hear with his or her own eyes. Remember this if you write in the third person as did Hemingway. You must not stand back and look at your story through a telescope. It must be intimate.

The protagonist is the main character. Who is the antagonist? You may need one in your story to be mean, nasty, cruel, uncaring, or having some other less than wonderful human trait. (You don’t need an antagonist in every short story. Most but not all such stories are called “boring.”)

Okay, let’s take an idea and run with it.

The sun beat down on the soggy field. Trevor was soaked from the rain, but now the warmth of the sun was quickly drying him. He slapped Bossy on the rump and said, “Let’s get to the barn, Bossy. If I don’t get you milked before Pa comes home, I’ll get the stick.” That’s when Trevor slipped on a cow patty and slid down the hill into the irrigation ditch. Bossy stared at the irrigation ditch for a while and then went back to chewing her cud.

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