What Have You Done to Me, Ernest Hemingway?

Miroslav Penkov, my fiction writing professor at UNT, once said, “Ernest Hemingway ruined more writers than whiskey did.”

He was right!

I am a third of the way through writing the first draft of book two, and have bogged down over the same issue that held up book one. My narrative prose sucks! The characters, especially Aura, are three dimensional. My dialogue is good. The story is excellent. The action scenes work and flow well, and the descriptive moments are word poems. The narrative that holds it all together is flat. It’s far too much subject-verb-object. Far too choppy. Far too Hemingwayesque! I don’t mean sound word choice, or the avoidance of passive structure. I mean my narrative falls into the rhythm of a staccato drum beat, not the rise and fall of a lute and fiddle.

Sigh. That’s what I get for reading all that Hemingway. As Stephen King once said, “Even when he was drunk on his ass, he was a fucking genius.” He was hypnotic. He was beautiful! His style just seeps into the bones of any writer. Once it has settled into the vocabulary of a writer, the Hemingway style is difficult to break. It almost seems a sin to try.

While I love the crispness of Hemingway’s terse, staccato beat, that does not belong in a fantasy novel. It works well for a hard boiled detective story, but fantasy begs for the lilt and cadence of lyricism. True, I’m writing a sword-and-sorcery adventure, so it does not ask for the formal treatment of epic fantasy. Still, it is based on mead hall songs, and should have that sense of musical flow. It should sound like that lute and fiddle.

I successfully wrote that kind of lyricism in one chapter. It had the cadence of a dance. Ironically enough, that chapter was about a Beltane festival, full of drinking, dancing, and music. Now, how to maintain that flow elsewhere!

It’s time to dig out Robert Jordan, Terry Goodkind, and Terry Brooks. Let me see how they handled narrative. It’s always good to draw inspiration and examples from someone other than the one who caused the problem to begin with! Either that, or I stick with writing travelogues about fire festivals in fantasy realms.

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