Authors, Bloggers: The Pitfalls of A Simple Style

1382560_book_2Over the last two days, I’ve examined the major dichotomy of style where creative writers and bloggers are concerned. I’ve discussed the benefits of using a simple style with short sentences focused on clarity. (This kind of writing is exemplified at its most famous by Hemingway.)

I’ve also discussed the benefits of writing with lots of frills and description, turning your draft into a real work of art of the baroque style. (William Faulkner, anyone?)

The most important thing is to be true to who you are. Write how you are meant to write and embrace the style you naturally gravitate toward. You will, for sure, have your greatest chance of success that way, no matter where you fall on the simple-baroque spectrum. You will sound sincere. Your voice will be genuine. Your readers will follow and trust you.

However you write–and whether you write fiction, nonfiction, a blog, or all of these–another key to success is to understand the pitfalls of your side of the spectrum. So, today, as a Hemingway-esque writer myself–meaning that I prefer short sentences, not that I have his talent, because geez, if only–I want to go into the stylistic dangers you face when you gravitate toward simple sentence structure and shorter, clearer words.


Hemingway’s style wasn’t without its dangers. But he wasn’t one to shy from danger. An avid hunter of big game, he likely killed a Nile crocodile or two.

Tomorrow, I’ll discuss the problems I’ve seen in books written by people who prefer to embellish their sentences and paragraphs.

What to watch for when you know you prefer simplicity and clarity in your writing

  • Simplicity isn’t always clear. Confusing conciseness with clarity is easy, but they don’t always coincide. Often writers like me–I call us “Hemingways”–worry about “saying too much.” In fact, in my first drafts I worry so much about saying too much that sometimes I don’t say everything the reader needs to know to make sense of a plot point. Be wary of this; preferring to give all necessary information with short, easy to follow sentences and short paragraphs is one thing. Making sure you give all necessary information is something else.
  • Make sure you vary sentence structure.  Variety is the spice of life. It’s also the spice of writing. There’s nothing wrong with short sentences. That said, you do need to vary them with compound sentences from time to time. A string of simple sentences will sound choppy. I know such a string is easy to follow. Your reader will progress quickly through your paragraphs. He’ll progress quickly until you lull him to sleep. (See what I’m doing here? How choppy, how boring was this paragraph without a variety of sentence structure? Even us Hemingways can be bothered to use conjunctions and semicolons, and a dependent clause here or there. These things make a major difference in how readable your prose is.)
  • Make sure your themes, arguments, and the overall development of your work shows that your thought processes aren’t simple in the way your style is. In other words, make sure your content is quality. (That goes for everyone, of course, regardless of style.) If you’re a Hemingway, make clear by the intelligence of your arguments and the solidity of your structure that you know what you’re talking about. Show that your preference for conciseness and clarity doesn’t mean you’re incapable of structuring longer, more complex sentences. You just like short ones.

Some people might think that just because your sentences are simple, your plot or your argument is one-dimensional and undeveloped. They might predispose themselves to judge your characters one-sided. Your job is to make sure that isn’t true, and to give all the evidence you can to the contrary.

So, what do you think? As a reader, what aspects of a Hemingway-esque style have annoyed you in the past? What aspects of it do you like?

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20 responses to “Authors, Bloggers: The Pitfalls of A Simple Style

  1. I’m a Faulkner girl myself but I have a special place for Hemmingway. The characters are always so rich and elevated due to his simplicity. Clarity is a good word for it but there is an air of the unknown, it allow me to imagine the characters my way instead of being led by the author.

  2. I find Hemingway a bit hard to swallow at first, because he is so brief. It takes a while to get into the choppiness of his writing, rather like needing to adjust your gait to get into step with him.
    I totally agree about writing with your own voice though. Someone once asked me how I write, and I have to say that I do it just as a speak. If it sounds ludicrous when you read it out, then it probably is!

    • I love that tip of reading your writing out loud! I do it all the time when i’m editing: especially dialogue. 🙂 Great, great point. If you writing doesn’t sound natural to you, that’s a problem every author needs to address.

      Also, I have to say I prefer Hemingway’s short stories to his novels. He really is so choppy it can be jolting.

  3. Well, I tend to lean toward the Hemingway side of the spectrum, but I long to have a little Kingsolver in me. I do not try to be Kinsolver, but I envy her descriptive abilities. Right now, my scenes are too stark and to the point, and I want to have more detail.

    Great post!

  4. I have a confession to make: I’ve never read Hemingway. I’m a fan of symbolism—and he opposed it. I’ve heard about the brevity of his prose—and I like Virginia Woolf. (I don’t think I need to elaborate.) But one of these days, I promise I’m going to at least give him a chance to be yet another (post)modernist writer I wish I could be.

    Oh, and I don’t like Faulkner. Sometimes I’m afraid I’m going to get stoned to death from liking neither of them. 🙂

    Thanks for the tips.

    • I don’t like Faulkner either. His themes and plots tend to disgust me to a fair degree. If you ever do decide to give Hemingway a try, go for his short stories. Or “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” That’s by far my favorite of his novels. (But I took two grad school classes on the Spanish Civil War and its repercussions, which that novel chronicles.)

      • Ah. I tend not to like historical novels—my history sucks. Sometimes I wish I had majored in social studies in high school instead of maths and hard science. I missed out on so many things! I couldn’t finish James Joyce’s “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” for the same reason. It’s too full of bits and pieces of Irish history, in which I have absolutely no interest.

        Thanks for the recommendations. I was indeed planning on reading his short stories first.

  5. as i read your blogs on writing style, i’ve had a hard time deciding if i write more like Hemingway or Faulkner? if maybe there was another well known author that considered himself/herself somewhere in the middle between fluff and flat?

    just wondering… t

    • Hmmm…. I’d say most writers actually fall somewhere in the middle. It’s really a spectrum. Very few writers–even those who prefer to write simple sentences and short paragraphs–are as choppy as Hemingway. And few can match the baroque beauty of Faulkner.

      So it’s really ok 🙂 If you feel like you’re in the middle, then you probably are. Nothing wrong with that at all 🙂 You’ll have lots of company.

  6. Pingback: What Is Writing Style All About? | This Craft Called Writing

  7. Pingback: Friday Faves: True to U. Thoughts on Style and Voice | Beyond The Margins

  8. Reblogged this on The Way of the Storyteller:.

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