Chekhov and Hemingway

Recently I saw a passing reference to “Chekhov’s Gun” and “Hemingway’s Iceberg” theories of writing. The author (whose name I’ve forgotten) set them in opposition to each other, but I disagree. It’s comparing a microscope to a scalpel – different tools for different goals.

Anton Chekhov believed in relevance of detail:

Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.

Ernest Hemingway wrote in a pared-down manner, but his “iceberg theory” involved deliberately leaving out important details or events. His idea was that the if the writer knew about the important event, the readers would recognize they were seeing only the tip of the iceberg. The readers would puzzle out what was below the surface, and their effort would deepen the meaning of the story for them.

Advertisements