Hemingway’s 5 Writing Tips

After high school in 1917, Ernest Hemingway tried to join the army.
He was only 17. The army turned him down.
Through an uncle, he landed a job at the Kansas City Star.
Cub reporters were given a style sheet demanding:
Short sentences.
Short paragraphs.
Vigorous English.
Positive, not negative writing.
Eliminate all superfluous words.

Hemingway observed these rules in his novels.
His reporting shows an ability to convey scenes with sparse details.

“At the End of the Ambulance Run” begins:
The night ambulance attendants shuffled down the long, dark corridors at the General Hospital with an inert burden on the stretcher. They turned in at the receiving ward and lifted the unconscious man to the operating table. His hands were calloused. He was unkempt and ragged, a victim of a street brawl.No one knew who he was. A receipt bearing the name of George Anderson for $10 paid on a home out in a little Nebraska town served to identify him.
The surgeon opened the swollen eyelids. The eyes were turned to the left.
“A fracture on the left side of the skull,” he said to the attendants.
“Well, George, you’re not going to finish paying for that home of yours.”

Hemingway was famous for his terse, minimalist style.
He used few adjectives and got straight to the point.

He once told a story in only 6 words:
“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

Why would you want to write like this? For starters, readers like it. Writing like this gets to the point. It respects readers’ time and busy lives.

Try it. You may like it.

To get more tips like this, email jerrybellune@yahoo.com about his upcoming book, Compelling Writing and to be added to his writing mailing list.

You can see past writing tips by clicking here.

Your Golden Hour of Discovery

Good writing requires good reading. 
Good writers read good writers. 
Think about what they did. 
How did they get their effects? 
What did they do to move you? 
Read them aloud. 
Listen to the pace and rhythm of their words.

Our colleague Roger Beirne used to retype poetry.
Robert Frost, William Butler Yeats and other poets he admired. 
“I want to feel how their words work,” he said.
Roger developed a lyrical style in his feature writing. 

Read good journalists.
The internet is a boon to all of us. 
We can access almost any newspaper or magazine in the world.
Concentrate on those that encourage good writing. 

Read magazines in print or on the internet.
Look for strong journalism, detailed reporting and vivid writing.

Read the novels of great writers. 
In translation, great writers in other languages teach style.    

Read the Bible. Most of the great writers of literature did.
Ernest Hemingway took book titles from Bible passages.
I prefer the original King James version.
The king’s translators had archaic but poetic styles. 
Choose the version you like from many translations. 
All have much to teach us about language.
Joan Beck of the Chicago Tribune says she reads the Bible every day.
“Those cadences get imprinted in your brain,” she said. 
“You tend to write in those kinds of patterns and rhythms.”

Read at least an hour a day. 
Not just duty reading. 
Devour your own and others’ newspapers and magazines.
Rise early and read for an hour while the rest of your household sleeps. 
Make them Golden Hours of Discovery. 
Note in the backs of your books the passages you may revisit.

Here is my suggested reading list:
Journalists: Joan Didion, James Agee, Hannah Arendt, Ernie Pyle, Russell Baker, Meyer Berger, Bob Greene, Jimmy Breslin, David Halberstam, Art Buchwald and John McPhee.

Masters of American literature and poetry: Mark Twain, Herman Melville, Annie Dillard, Robert Frost. Emily Dickinson, Carl Sandburg, John Steinbeck and Ernest Hemingway. 

Modern fiction: Robert B. Parker’s Spencer novels for crisp dialogue, Stuart Woods for his fast-paced plots, and James Lee Burke for his imagery.

Specific Selections:
The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane. 
The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe
Growing Up by Russell Baker.
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. 
Only in America by Harry Golden.
On the Road by Charles Kuralt (his TV scripts). 
Slouching Toward Bethlehem by Joan Didion.
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt.

Did you enjoy learning from this?
There’s much more in Compelling Writing.
E-copies are available for $10.
Just email jerrybellune@yahoo.com

Pump up your prose

Are you old enough to remember Charles Atlas?
It was probably not the name his family gave him but an apt pseudonym for a man who marketed a muscle-building program he called “Dynamic Tension.”
Without weights or other traditional gym equipment, he turned his 90-pound weakling body into a model of muscular magnificence.
I tell you this story as a metaphor for what you might do with the words you choose, those you discard and the results you get.
With this small volume, you will be encouraged to be ruthless with your prose.
Here are several examples of how a few simple, muscular words can touch emotions and reveal visions far better than long passages, no matter how eloquent.
Martin Luther King, Jr., with a lifetime in the pulpit, used 4 words powerfully again and again during his speech at the Lincoln Memorial. As former Times of London editor Harold Evans wrote in Do I Make Myself Clear, Rev. King invoked the cadences of the Old and New Testaments, “I have a dream.”
Abraham Lincoln stirred listeners at the Gettysburg battlegrounds with words today’s Washington bureaucrats seem to have forgotten, “Government of the people, by the people, for the people.”
While waiting for the isolationist United States to join World War II, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill promised America and his own people, “We shall not fail or falter. We shall not weaken or tire.” Then he finished a broadcast heard on both sides of the Atlantic and on Nazi radios, too, with 10 taut words of appeal to America: ”Give us the tools and we will finish the job.”
This is not literary elegance. It is workmanlike. No tears/ No whining.
Not a single wasted word, Evans writes.
Can we pare down our words? You bet. Make your surviving words stronger by paring away weaker ones surrounding them.
Here is an example from a 31-word news story lead, written and edited by professionals at the Washington Post. They should have been mindful of the simple power of words from King, Lincoln and Churchill.
Newly released data from the Drug Enforcement Administration shows a trend in pill distribution that, according to plaintiffs suing the drug industry, can’t be passed off as reasonable therapeutic medical treatment.
Still puzzling that one out? Me, too.
Here is what I suspect they meant to convey to their readers:
Physician pill-pushing can’t be passed off as reasonable pain relief.
That’s what Drug Enforcement Administration data shows and lawsuits against the drug industry claim.
2 paragraphs, 25 simple words, 5 beginning with the letter “p.”
The longest one, “Administration,” has 5 syllables and 14 letters. It was unavoidable in this case as it is in the proper name of the data’s source.
Look at your words. How many can you cut to strengthen the survivors?

10.5 internet posting tips

Getting started in journalism is tough.
You don’t know what you need to know.
Find good mentors and listen to them.
I did and they taught by example and advice.
Now I try to do follow their example.

Some rules have changed, thanks to technology.
Here are 10.5 tips we gave our newspaper intern,
They are for posting on our site and social media.

1. Check news sites Monday – Friday, These include: 
– Print and online newspapers and news services.
– TV and/or local news radio station sites. 
– Your own inbox for news releases 

2. Stories we need to post should have:
– Local people or angles involved.
–  Be of high interest to our readers.

3. Always attribute where the news came from.
-“according to ___”
–  “___ reported.”

4. Write headlines with the names of towns involved:
– “Gaston wife kills unfaithful husband”
– “County team wins Super Bowl”

5. Remember WIIFM (what’s in it for me). 
Always think about what readers need or want:
– To know that will affect their lives.
– That involves local people they may know.

6. Keep sentences short – 15 words on average. 

7. Use active verbs. Forms of “to be” are static.

8. Use simple 1-, 2- and 3-syllable words. 

9. Translate police and governmental jargon.
Use language the rest of us understand. 

10. Keep postings to no more than 150-160 words.
Our audience is made up of busy people.

10.5. Ask if we need a longer story for print.

And when in doubt, ask us for help.

For my Little Red Book of Compelling Writing;
– email JerryBellune@gmail.com.

Make them see, hear, smell and feel

You may find this hard to believe.
Our outdoor writer Cole Stilwell is 16 and a high school student.
I wish I could have written at 16 as well as he does.

Cole’s hiking buddy is his grandfather, Chuck McCurry.
Chuck wrote our popular Church Buzz column.
Writing well must be in their genes.

All of us are pleased by Cole’s progress.
He started with us as an internet intern.
He still posts news on our website and social media.

Recently, Cole wrote about 2 park rangers in nearby Aiken.
Here are 3 suggestions we shared with him that may help you, too.

1. Always get their life stories. 
People like to tell their stories.
Readers like to read them.
Unfortunately, too often no one listens to them.
They are pleased if you take an interest in them.

Our readers would have liked to know, for example:
– How the park rangers picked their careers.
– What it took them to get there.
– What they love about their chosen work.

2. Use the Big Eye, Big Ear approach to reporting. 
Give readers details so they see and hear what you saw and heard.

For example, they would like to have known what it:
– looked like, 
– sounded like, 
– smelled like, 
– even felt like
kayaking down a blackwater river such as the Edisto.

3. Make them see. 
Our journalism colleague Gene Roberts, a Pulitzer Prize winner at the NY Times and Philadelphia Inquirer, started his career working for a blind North Carolina publisher. 
The publisher’s wife read him the stories for each week’s edition.

Gene’s publisher insisted that he “make me see what you saw.”
He even had Gene write “This Week’s Prettiest Sight.”
Gene hated doing it. The guys at the pool hall kidded him about it.
But he learned a valuable lesson in observation and writing.

I hope this helps you as well as Cole. 
Keep watching, listening, feeling – and writing.

PS, Let me recommend Annie Dillard’s “The Writing Life.”
It will inspire you as it has done me.
For an exciting chapter from her book, visit
https://www.brainpickings.org/2013/06/24/annie-dillard-dave-rahm/ .

Secrets of storytelling

Have you heard someone drone on and on?
They love their story and tell it again and again.
All of us want to be good storytellers, orally and in print.
If you retell a story, give it a fresh slant.
Share new lessons the experience taught you.
Make the lessons ones that will benefit your audience.

Here are tips from experts, courtesy of Elizabeth Bernstein.
Elizabeth writes for the Wall Street Journal.

  1. Make a point.
    This why you tell stories.
    You don’t have to state it but keep it in mind.
    I tell the story of how we started our 1st newspaper.
    The facts are the same but the way I tell it differs.
    And I draw different points in each telling.

2. Open dramatically.
You need a “James Bond opening.”
One of my favorites is one Charlie Farrell tells.
Charlie was a Marine fighter pilot.
His story is about his 1st landing on a carrier at sea.
The carrier deck looked like a postage stamp from above.
It is a white knuckle run.
Charlie makes you feel what he felt.

Paul Zak, who studies the neurobiology of storytelling, says:
• You must have reasons for us to want to read or listen.
• An exciting opening produces dopamine in our brains.
That helps to focus our readers’ attention.

3. Put flesh on your characters.
What are the people in your story like?
How did they act, feel and look?
Make readers care about your characters
Their brains will produce oxytocin, the bonding hormone.

4. Build tension.
Deepen your story. Create cliffhangers and surprise.
These give a reason to care about your characters.
It will engage them with your story.
When they are emotionally engaged, they bond with you.

5. Make personal disclosures.
Research shows that self-disclosure helps people bond.
But don’t exaggerate. It kills credibility.
You can make yourself the butt of the story.
Readers love those of us willing to show our vulnerability.

Final tip: If you’re retelling a story, admit it.
Research shows repetition makes you look inauthentic.
But if you admit it, it seems to make it all right.
Write or say, “One of my favorite stories is…”

Make Me See

The grey sea and the long black land 
and the yellow half-moon large and low. 
And the startled little waves that leap
In fiery ringlets from their sleep.

That’s how poet Robert Browning set the stage
in his poem about young lovers “Meeting at Night.”
You can see what he was seeing.

Editor Gene Roberts tells how his first editor,
a blind man in Goldsboro, N.C. had to have his wife
read him the newspaper each day.
He insisted to all his reporters “make me see” what they had seen.
Among his other duties, Gene covered farming.
His editor insisted that he close his column each week
with “This Week’s Prettiest Sight.”

Gene didn’t like doing it.
His friends kidded him about it.
But the experience and discipline
of doing it made him a keen observer.
That skill led to success at
The New York Times and The Philadelphia Inquirer.

All good writing, said Saul Pett,
one of the Associated Press’s great stylists,
is two sides of the same coin.
How is this man different from me?
How are we alike?

Does the richest man in the world
have everything he wants?
Does he bother with the prices on a menu?
Or on a yacht?

Tell me the large and tell me the small.
Identify with me. Plug into my circuit.
The eye of the writer is sharper than
the television camera because it is
linked to a brain and a heart.

Here is how award-winning reporter David Waters
of The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, Tenn.,
helped his readers see his subject:

Big Teddy Carr was big enough to have his way
and bad enough to lose it.
Kids made fun of his size until he found out
his size could put a stop to that.
Teddy’s bearlike stature was a source of shame.
Then it become a source of income, mostly illegal.

Journalist Jimmy Breslin wrote of 
the Dublin poet Patrick Kavanaugh:
His tie is loose and the long end thrown over his shoulder. 
He had on two pairs of eyeglasses. 
Both sat cockeyed and were steamed up in the hot pub. 
He sat hunched over in his rumpled overcoat 
with his arms folded and the pint of stout in front of him. 
His shoes were open and the laces caught under the soles.
Breslin makes us see Kavanaugh. 

Here’s an exercise if you’re game.
Write a description of every thing
and every person you can see
from where you are.
Now get up and move around the room.
Add anything else you noted that you
could not see from your desk.

This tip will appear in “The Little Red Book of Compelling Writing.”
If you like me to include a comment from you about these tips,
please email it to me at JerryBellune@yahoo.com

Show rather than tell

Good morning,
Here we are again, thinking about improving our writing.
Today’s topic is geared to feature writing although it will work in news stories, too.

We talk a lot about storytelling in writing.
What we really mean is “Show your readers – don’t just tell them.”

Most of us are aware that it is more convincing to show something through action, behavior or dialogue than it is just to tell it.
Our ability and effort to show may determine if our readers think our story is realistic and that we are credible as storytellers.

This applies more to feature writing than traditional news reporting.
Yet it can be useful in both.

Here are 3 hints:

  1. Describe scenes with real people taking action or talking with each other.
    Let your readers hear what you hear and how you heard it – not only what they said but how they said it. Let them hear the noise of cities and the quiet of mountains and forests, the music of surf and wind.
  2. Let the reader experience what took place and how it made you feel.
    Take them inside the scene and inside yourself.
  3. Use concrete detail.
    Describe what happened as you saw it.

Relate strange places and people to places and people you and your readers both may know.
For example, show them an elderly man who “looked like Winston Churchill.”
Describe sunrise over a peak “like the Blue Ridge mountains.”

Bring your readers into the scene with you.
Think and write as if you were setting a scene in a work of fiction.

A fine reporter, Roger Beirne, was troubled after interviewing the mother of her son killed in combat.
His account told simply what he saw, the neighborhood where the family lived, the look of the house where the boy grewn up, how his mother appeared when she came to the door, what she told him about her son. It was a moving account.
Roger did not need to hype it up. He simply showed what took place.

During the Nazi bombing of London in 1940, war correspondent Ernie Pyle wrote:
They came just after dark, and somehow you could sense from the quick, bitter firing of the guns that there was to be no monkey business this night. Shortly after the sirens wailed you could hear the Germans grinding overhead.
In my room, with its black curtains drawn across the windows, you could feel the shake from the guns. You could hear the boom, crump, crump, crump, of heavy bombs at their work of tearing buildings apart. They were not too far away.

Australian journalist Helen Garner opens her account of a murder-suicide:
It happened in broad daylight one April afternoon in 2015, while the ciitizens of Melbourne were peaceably going about their business.
A chef on her way to get a tattoo, was driving past Lake Gladman, a reedy, rock-edged wetland, when the blue Toyota SUV in front of her suddenly pulled off and stopped. As the chef drove by, she caught a glimpse of an African woman sitting huddled over the steering wheel with her face in her hands. Kids behind her were rioting. A little one was thrashing in his booster, a bigger one dangling off the back of the driver’s seat.
Minutes later, a passing teacher saw the Toyota “drive full bolt straight into the water.”

These highly dramatic examples show what is possible.
Your story may not be as dramatic as these.
Yet similar human energy is there in most stories.

Here is an example from our newspaper:
It all began with a phone call Chapin Town Councilman Al Koon made on Monday, June 25, to his friend Paul Kirby.
Kirby is editor and publisher of the online Lexington Ledger and a former firefighter and correspondent for the Chronicle.
“Al called me about noon to chat as we often do,” Paul said. “It was unusual for him to call me mid-day as we normally talk in the morning or when I am driving home.
“When Al’s speech changed as we talked, it did so quickly and dramatically. He was completely unintelligible and it was clear that something was very wrong.”

Try it in your next story,
Make us see, hear, even smell and feel what you are experiencing.

Writing Tip: Memorable thank you notes

Good morning, fellow scribblers.

This week’s tip will be unusual 
but appropriate for the 
winter gift-giving season.

Some of our friends put me
to shame. They are ardent
thank-you note writers.
They don’t write by email or
anything looking like a form letter.
Their notes are hand written and
ring of personal authenticity.

I suspect you will need to write
several such notes this month.
This is an almost lost art.
Here are a few tips to help.
At the end of this tip you will find
a masterfully-written example.

1. Use no fancy words. 
You’re not trying to impress. 
Write the way you speak. 
That’s the real you.

2. Write them by hand.
Make sure they are legible. 
No chicken scratching.

3. Be specific. 
Say what you are grateful for.
Use such words as:
Thank you for the …
I am grateful for …
I appreciate the …

4. Tell how they made you feel. 
A few examples:
• You made me feel like part of 
your family during our visit.
• Thanks for sharing your delicious 
cheesecake recipe. It will make me
the envy of all my friends.

5. Close with an old-fashion hug. 
Write something like this:
• Affectionately (and your name)
• Love from your best friend ….
• Fondly as always …

I promised you an example. 
Here’s a small masterpiece of thanks 
as well as of apology. 
It was written by the late President Bush
to a military mother.

Dear Mrs. McGrath, 
Your thoughtful son, Bryan, wrote me a very nice letter 
about you and it appears that I owe you an apology. 
Bryan tells me that during the Gulf War 
when he was serving on the USS Thomas S. Gates,
you wrote me a letter of support which was never acknowledged. 

Belated though this is, I want to, first, apologize for not having written 
to thank you for your letter. I have boundless respect
for the men and women of our Armed Forces.
I was so proud of their professionalism and commitment to duty. 
You must be so proud of your Navy son. 
As a former Navy man myself, I share your pride.

I hope you forgive me, Mrs. McGrath, for not having written sooner. 
Just know that this former Commander-in-Chief, now a happy private citizen, appreciates your family’s patriotism and support.
Sincerely, George Bush

Your thank you letters do not have to be
as eloquent as the late President was.
But they should be simple and sincere. 
They should come from your heart.
Write the kind of thank you notes 
that you would want to receive.

All of us at the Chronicle wish you a memorable holiday.

PS. Our publisher has advised that we are 
burdening our readers and our colleagues 
with too many weekly writing tips. 
Realizing the learning curve is steep, 
I will give you a break between tips 
to let you catch your breath.

This will be your last writing tip in December. 
Watch for your next one in January.

PPS. If you have not yet ordered your copy of 
“Maverick Entrepreneurs’ Million Dollar Strategies,”
now is the time to do it. 
The books make great Christmas or New Year gifts 
for clients, colleagues and friends in business. 
They are a modest $20 each.

The books are to arrive from the printer this week. 
Get your order in by credit card and I will personally
autograph it and pay the $3.95 postage. 
Just call Katie or me at 803-359-7633.

Writing Tip: Attention grabbers

Good morning, fellow scribblers.

All of us should write snappy openings.
It may be a news article or a letter.
Even a note to our kids.
Lets grab their attention and hold it.
Is that snappy enough?

Here’s why you should bother to do it:
Short, direct openings command attention.
We don’t want to put them to sleep.
Lets wake the old boys up.
They will thank us for it.

Here’s an example of how we should not write:
Florida’s protracted Senate election proceeded to a manual recount on Thursday, the next phase in an increasingly bitter and litigious fight, while Republicans declared victory anew in the race for governor.

That’s 30 words in a newspaper I enjoy.
It’s also one at which I sometimes cringe.

It could have read this way:
Florida’s drawn-out Senate election rolled to a manual recount Thursday.
It is the next step in an increasingly bitter and litigious fight.
The Republicans also declared victory in the race for governor.

A good rule of thumb to practice:
One thought per sentence.
The Wall Street Journal version had 3.

We aren’t dumbing down the writing.
We’re making it easy to understand.

Here are two examples of what we mean:
First the more traditional 10-word approach:
Two lawmakers wrangled over open public records last night.

There is nothing wrong with this version.
But here’s a snappier 4-word version:
The gloves are off.
A row between Sen. Joe Jones and Rep. Sam Smith erupted last night.

Here’s another example.
Traditional 13-word lead:
State lawmakers agreed yesterday 115-0 to open voting on bills affecting your taxes.

Snappy 3-word lead:
The taxpayers won.
In a 115-0 vote yesterday, state lawmakers agreed to open voting on bills affecting your taxes.
This was a victory for local lawmakers who pushed for open government.

If you’re into exercise, here’s one for you:
Pick at random one of your recent stories or letters.
Rewrite the opening.
Rewrite the opening again – differently.

I coached a magazine writer who wrote 15 openings to one story.
3 of them could have been prize winners.

Try for snappy leads of five words or less.
You’ll find it actually easier than it might seem.
You will even come to enjoy doing it.