This iceberg looks like a spacious island of snow, enough to house a hundred penguins at least. But is it only what appears on the surface? If you dive into the freezing waters, you’ll see almost twice as many iceberg regions immersed in water. What looked like a small piece of land had hundreds of meters of ice hidden.
Like creative literature, each word, full stop, and exclamation mark contains a river of emotions, philosophies, and perspectives behind it. But only a few gifted writers are able to pull off this feat neatly; one of them was Ernest Hemingway, the Nobel prize recipient author who was also the founding father of the iceberg theory. A crucial yet simplistic approach for creative writers to make their work resonate with the reader on an intimate level. Let’s learn about Ernest Hemingway’s iceberg theory and what led him to this discovery.
Ernest Hemingway Revolutionized Creative Literature in the 20th Century
Before the 20th century, English language literature extensively focused on literary realism. A literary movement that emphasized showcasing reality as it is. Narrating the mundane events in life, depicting familiar spaces, people, and classes to make books relatable. However, this took out the creativity and imagination from the writing and reading experience.
Then, in the 20th century, this changed for good when the writing style incorporated symbolism and dialects to highlight the objective of literary realism. And this was also the time when Ernest Hemingway, a short story writer and novelist, introduced the Iceberg Theory.
Ernest Hemingway was widely publicized for his conventional themes like intense masculinity, heroic fatalism, and disillusionment post-warfare. The Nobel Prize winner entered adult life as a soldier who drove ambulances for the Red Cross in World War I. And after a break for recovery from the army, he renewed his passion for writing while working odd jobs in Chicago. With the efforts and encouragement of his fellow pen pals, he began publishing his excerpts and non-journalistic pieces in different newspapers across the country.
Hemingway’s first breakthrough was his novel, “The Sun Also Rises,” published in 1926, leading him to fame and the spotlight he sometimes loved and hated. The same year, he also published a parody of Sherwood Anderson’s book Dark Laughter in his version, “The Torrents of Spring.”
Hemingway spent most of his post-war years in Paris writing and creating new stories, bringing different characters to life. He earned the position of a short fiction maestro with his book, “Men Without Women,” in 1927 and stood firm to this title with his next book, “Winner take nothing,” released in 1933.
Hemingway remained deeply inspired by war and its consequences on Spain since he lived there for most of his writing period. When the civil war started in Spain, Ernest was the first to raise money for the Republicans and support the movement against the Nationalists. One of the fruits of his efforts was the critically acclaimed book, “For Whom the Bells Toll,” released in 1940, which is quoted as his finest work.
Hemingway then returned to Cuba and continued to bring brilliant stories to life. He received the Pulitzer Prize for Across the River into the Trees in 1950 and The Old Man and the Sea in 1952, winning him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954.
Ernest Hemingway: Iceberg Theory
He says that;
The dignity of the movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water.
A writer’s job is to build a world on every page with words. Every new page allows you to choose and create, no matter your genre or story. However, there is only so much to fill the pages with. That gives you only a limited space to explain the world-building and the phenomenon behind the story. He, in his book Death in the Afternoon, explains it in the following way:
If a prose author knows enough of what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows, and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will feel those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them.
Ernest Hemingway says that each sentence has a hidden explanation, like the iceberg hidden beneath the surface. He centers his theory around the fact that there is always more to the story than what meets the reader’s eye.
What Does Ernest Hemingway’s Iceberg Theory Help Us Understand?
Words, narratives, plots, and characters are what we see on the surface, but as we dive deeper, we will learn the meaning, feelings, emotions, and subtext behind every word and phrase written.
It was his strategy for immersive writing techniques for fiction. He wanted prose to be readable and leave enough impact for the reader to think about the meaning behind them. He was one of those minimalistic authors who weaved the most impactful stories in a straightforward writing style.
Although it is a widely used theory in the literary world, Ernest developed this idea while working as a journalist. He used to cover real-life stories in simplistic and refined tones. As he stepped into creative literature, he used a similar manner to create intriguing and immersive short stories—providing a simple plot that holds a pandora of complex metaphors and phrases.
As a striving journalist, he wanted his stories to have the slightest bit of context, leaving them at the mercy of the readers.
Ernest Hemingway’s iceberg theory is an extension of people’s behaviors in the real world. Real people hold a storm of emotions, motivations, and values beneath the surface of every action, possession, and speech. People do not have to state their experiences and feelings explicitly since others can comprehend their behaviors and put two and two together.
Every writer has to fight the temptation to include even the slightest nuances in their writing to make it engaging. But in reality, it just drags the scripture into a lengthy paragraph. The greatest write-ups have the least words making the biggest impacts. It is better to leave something unsaid to the reader’s interpretation and imagination rather than spelling out each detail, taking away the attention from the main plot.
How Can a Creative Writer Benefit From Ernest Hemingway’s Iceberg Theory?
If you are a storyteller, you probably have to put a lot of effort into your story’s plot, character background, and world-building. Whether it be realistic fiction or inspired by actual events, it requires great care to develop the final product.
But you cannot put every tiny detail into the product; you must choose wisely what to add and what not to add. Here’s how the Iceberg Theory can help you:
First Layer: Plot of the Story
The plot progress purely depends on the action, and it is also the action factor that enables you to incorporate the iceberg technique into the story. Every fictional character has its personality, traits, aims, and ambitions. Once the reader has figured out their purpose and what drives them to it, there will be no need to explain the cause behind their every action and move. A prior explanation at the start of the plot can save you from including the details after every chapter or passage.
Second Layer: World-Building
The world-building and plot setting must be written in such a way that the reader can instantly visualize it. Suppose a book talks about the interior of a mansion; in that case, the reader must be able to imagine how the wooden floor would creak with someone walking on the floor without mentioning the sound again and again in the book. World-building should be so strong that the reader can visualize, hear, and feel it.
Although most writers find it unfair not to share everything about their world, staying prudent and sticking to the relevant aspects of world-building is better.
Third Layer: Characters
You can apply the iceberg theory in character development to describe these fictitious individuals as they develop throughout the story. Using characters’ actions and dialogues to convey their emotions can be an excellent way to explore their development. If it’s an intelligent character, you can show their problem-solving skills as an expression of their intelligence. Instead of a lengthy description of the character’s likes, past lives, and behaviors, you can use the action technique to make it immersive and engaging.
Ted’s Tales Is a Magnificent Example of Ernest Hemingway’s Iceberg Theory
Ted Delgrosso, the creator of Ted’s Tales, shows his readers a live example of the iceberg theory in his collection of short stories, Ted’s Tales, which is a combination of both contemporary fiction and sci-fi, bringing you a bite-sized dose of adventure and life lessons. His short stories hold within them an array of emotions and nostalgia. From pets to hunting to unidentified flying creatures, you’ll find it all in Ted’s Tales by Ted Delgrosso.