I write on the principle of the iceberg… 7/8ths of it underwater for every part that shows. – Ernest Hemingway
This past weekend my family and I went to an arts fest held at a local museum that included free admission to a lovely new exhibit travelling from the National Galleries of Scotland. We listened to music, saw some dancing and watched a battle with swords and shields that was probably my three boys’ favorite part. I was most excited for the exhibit so I brought the boys while I was able to walk through and look at the art. My oldest made more of an attempt to seem interested than most of the boys we had with us, and though he wasn’t that impressed, he asked me what I liked so much about looking at the paintings. I had to think about how to answer.
How to you explain art appreciation simply and quickly while in a crowded exhibit full of people huddled up in front of a Picasso? I told him there’s a lot that can be studied, the color, the brush strokes, the mood created, but what I love is how the picture makes me feel. There may be layers of things going on in the painting in front of me, but inevitably I’ll be drawn to small details, or will just be moved by the overall impact of the painting. I think his response was “Hmmm” and then he drifted off back to his friend. Such a parenting win – haha!
I left, though, thinking more about it, and of course thinking more about it as a writer.
When we read we do the same thing as when we look at art. Usually we don’t read to appreciate the word choice or the writer’s ability to plot, we read for the impact the story or essay or poem has upon us. As a writer, it’s our job to lay the groundwork, as artfully as we are able, for the reader to fill in the blanks and carry it away to another place.
I submitted the beginning of a short story to my critique group this week, and what I loved to hear from one of the group was that she could see her own experience in the story. While it wouldn’t be exactly like what the reader had experienced, it was enough to pull up her own experience to color in where the writing stops.
So how much do we give? I like Hemingway’s quote above about the iceberg, and how what we show in the story is only a piece of what is going on, so that the reader can find or provide the rest of the “iceberg”. Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” is a classic example of his particular style of showing us a story that has hidden depths beneath. What seems to be a simple conversation tackles the much bigger concept of abortion.
I’m still learning how to build a story that gives you just enough to make you go a little further, thinking more about it, or that has an emotional impact that takes you somewhere else.
Hawthorne tells us “Easy reading is damn hard writing.” It’ll take a lot of writing with effort to get something that manages to show a little but give a lot, but it’s definitely something I’m aiming toward.
What about you? Do you agree with Hemingway – show a bit of the iceberg? What stories or poems do you think do this well? Or do you think there’s the danger of not giving enough? Feel free to tell me about it in the comments.
Thanks for dropping by. Have a great week!