Read HILLS LIKE WHITE ELEPHANTS if you’re coming to my new writing course, or even if you aren’t…
I’ve handed out copies of Hemingway’s famous short story to students I’ve met who are enrolling in my new course and I thought I should also mention it here.
It was first published 90 years ago, during the jazz age, although I’m not sure people at the time called it that. There were silent films showing in the cinemas and the Wall Street Crash was still two years away. Charles Lindbergh flew The Spirit of St. Louis across the Atlantic that year and the first red telephone boxes were erected in London. It was another world, but may be in some ways it wasn’t so different.
You don’t have to like the story or the way it’s told to get something useful from it.
Look out for:
The way nothing in the dialogue sounds as though it is said purely for the reader’s benefit. In real life, we don’t tell each other the stuff we already know. We don’t explain. Often we don’t say the things we want to say, or that need to be said.
The way we know the man is talking in Spanish and the girl isn’t (and probably can’t).
The way we can feel the heat.
The minimal description and spare, tight language.
Hills like White Elephants has become a classic story because of all the things we aren’t told. The names of the man and the woman, for example, and the nature of their relationship. And crucially what they are arguing about.
Ok, so you don’t want to write like Hemingway.
That’s fine: neither do I. Trust me, I don’t teach you how to write like anyone except yourself. But we can still learn from him and each other.