When reading about Hemingway, I came across his Iceberg Theory.
The Iceberg Theory (also known as the “theory of omission”) is a term used to describe the writing style of American writer Ernest Hemingway. The theory is this: The meaning of a piece is not immediately evident, because the crux of the story lies below the surface, just as most of the mass of a real iceberg similarly lies beneath the surface (Glansberg). For example, The Old Man and the Sea is a meditation upon youth and age, even though the protagonist spends little or no time thinking on those terms. In his essay “The Art of the Short Story”, Hemingway is clear about his method: “A few things I have found to be true. If you leave out important things or events that you know about, the story is strengthened. If you leave or skip something because you do not know it, the story will be worthless. The test of any story is how very good the stuff that you, not your editors, omit.”
From reading Rudyard Kipling, he absorbed the practice of shortening prose as much as it could take. Of the concept of omission, Hemingway wrote in “The Art of the Short Story”: “You could omit anything if you knew that you omitted and the omitted part would strengthen the story and make people feel something more than they understood.” By making invisible the structure of the story, he believed the author strengthened the piece of fiction and that the “quality of a piece could be judged by the quality of the material the author eliminated.”
Psychology also mentions that some behaviors are not fully manifested. They lie underneath in the sub-conscious just like a submerged iceberg.
And we all know that there is so much that is under the surface – a range of emotions – anger, sadness, guilt, sorrow, desires!
Layers in a story are important. They add to the complexities that a perceptible human mind craves.
However, the story dons another fabulous dimension when the layers when peeled, makes the reader feel that there is something else lurking underneath; something that is not shown.
In a short story, where every word counts, omission becomes an important inclusion to make the readers feel without giving many details.
Glansberg, Steven. “Ernest Hemmingway Research Paper.” Bartleby, 28 Mar. 2012, https://www.bartleby.com/essay/Ernest-Hemmingway-Research-Paper-P3CE3CKCTC.
2 thoughts on “Strengthening your short stories by ‘Theory of Omission’ or ‘The Iceberg Theory’”
How interesting; I have read Hemingway but never heard of his Iceberg theory. Wonderful post, Prachi.
I’m learning about Hemingway’s writing style, the iceberg theory is so unique.
Great post, Prachi.