70 Days With Hemingway And Me

Every Novel, Back to Back, Starting With the First

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Hemingway the Screenwriter

June 15th, 2009 · 1 Comment · The Torrents of Spring

Will Reading

I noticed something as I lay on the blanket in the park reading The Torrents of Spring, Hemingway’s first novel, published in 1926:

Hemingway writes novels the way screenwriters write movies.

Screenwriting, according to Robert McKee, is writing on the knife-edge of the now. Whether it be a flashback or a flash forward, what an audience sees on the screen is always “now.” There’s no such thing as past-tense in a movie. It’s always now.

Park ViewThis is why McKee urges screenwriters to write vividly, using a Hemingway-esque choice of words, eschewing bland (and outright unnecessary) adverbs and adjectives in favor of descriptive nouns and active verbs. In other words, a good screenwriter writes in such a way that someone reading her script gets an immediate mental picture, a director can take the script and transfer the words into visual elements on the screen, and audiences are awed by the experience.

That’s an accurate description of Hemingway’s writing style in The Torrents of Spring.

TreeHere’s what I mean. The following paragraph opens Chapter Thirteen, which is the first chapter of Part Four: “The Passing of a Great Race and the Making and Marring of Americans”:

“Yogi Johnson walking down the silent street with his arm around the little Indian’s shoulder. The big Indian walking along beside them. The cold night. the shuttered houses of the town. The little Indian, who has lost his artificial arm. The big Indian, who was also in the war. Yogi Johnson, who was in the war too. The three of them walking, walking, walking. Where were they going? Where could they go? What was there left?”

That paragraph reads as if Hemingway actually saw those events. He wrote what he saw: “Yogi Johnson walking down the silent street.”

Another example, from the same chapter:

Sky View“Yogi standing under the street light. Yogi thinking and wondering. The two Indians in their mackinaw coats. One of the Indians with an empty sleeve. All of them wondering.”

The more I read, the more I felt empowered to observe my own surroundings.

So I did.

The photographs in this post are the result.

I simply looked around, noticing things.

And I’ll be darned if I didn’t feel more creative – in a Hemingway sort of way, that is.

Park PlaygroundHere’s another example, from the first paragraph of Chapter Fourteen:

Inside the beanery. They are all inside the beanery. Some do not see the others. Each are intent on themselves. Red men are intent on red men. White men are intent on white men or on white women.”

There is one other example of a vivid sentence that I must mention. It occurs on page 81, in Chapter Fourteen:

At the other end of the counter of the beanery a marriage was coming to an end.”

What an incredibly profound and meaningful observation!

Using just 17 words, without resorting to the use of heavy-handed emotionalism, Ernest Hemingway captures a powerful event.

There’s a lot of strangeness in The Torrents of Spring. A lot of non seqiturs, flights of fancy, and self deception from the characters. So I can’t even begin to know what The Torrents of Spring is about. Maybe it’s not about anything.

But that doesn’t matter.

What does is that I gained a valuable insight into Hemingway’s writing style that I look forward to testing in subsequent novels.

I begin The Sun Also Rises in two days.


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