Books Magazine

The Style Sheet That Influenced Hemingway

By Robert Bruce @robertbruce76

This is a copy of the style sheet Ernest Hemingway used while working at The Kansas City Star early in his career as a writer.

It’s a little difficult to read. But if you can read it, there’s still a lot of good, relevant advice in there–especially considering he used it in 1917.

Hemingway said he was heavily influenced by this style sheet throughout his career.

Take a look at the PDF.

Notice the first few sentences in the top left of the page: “Use short sentences. Use short first paragraphs. Use vigorous English.”

Yeah, that’s definitely Hemingway.

Some other excerpts:

  • Eliminate every superfluous word as “Funeral services will be at 2 o’clock Tuesday,” not “The funeral services will be held at the hour of 2 o’clock on Tuesday.” He said is better than he said in the course of conversation.
  • Say “She was born in Ireland and came to Jackson County in 1874,” not “but came to Jackson County.” She didn’t come here to make amends for being born in Ireland. This is common abuse of the conjunction.
  • “He suffered a broken leg in a fall,” not “he broke his leg in a fall.” He didn’t break the leg, the fall did. Say leg, not his leg, because presumably the man has two legs.
  • Avoid the use of adjectives, especially such extravagant ones as splendid, gorgeous, grand, magnificent, etc.
  • Never use old slang. Slang to be enjoyable must be fresh.
  • Be careful of the word only. “He only had $10,” means he alone was the possessor of such wealth; “He had only $10,” means the ten was all the cash he possessed.

Some cool stuff here.

All of the above is still pretty relevant to today’s writers. The gist of it is simply to be clear and concise.

Read over it and tell me what point stands out most to you.

(Image: Wikimedia Commons)


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