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10:09 am: In Defense of the Heming Way: A Look At Some Virtues Of The Other Side.

 

 

After complaining about the modern adverbless, strictly action style of writing (aptly dubbed the Heming Way by mosellegreen), I feel I should say a few words in its favor.

 

First, in case anyone has missed the previous two posts: What do I mean by the Heming Way? Writing like Hemingway? Only using “he said”? Leaving at every adverb in the dictionary? For a more complete definition, let us look one more time at Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules for Writing:

 

3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said” . . .
8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

 

So…why should a writer consider writing the Heming Way

It sells:  Of bestsellers, apparently a majority are written in the modern stripped-down style. If the majority of books that make money are written in a certain style. An aspiring author should at least investigate that style to see if it works for him. What is better than writing in a style readers love?

 

 

Easy to read: Heming Way books are books without bumps. You sit down, you start reading, and—so long as what you are reading interests you—you never stop. The scenes lead from one active moment into another in a smooth seamless ride that does not stop until the words run out at the end. There are no flowery speed bumps, where you might consider putting the book down and wandering out to get a cup of coffee. (Starbucks has a new dark cherry flavor. Really tasty. Now that you have put down the book, you might as well head out and get a cup.)

 

Hard to put down: New dark cherry flavor go hang! The hero is about to get his butt kicked and I could not possibly put the book down until I found out…oh, now he is hanging over a cliff! What is going to happen?

 

Books without speed bumps are hard to pull away from. They move. One scene flows into another. Like potato chips, you have got to read just one more page. Man, this is exciting. Get your own dinner!  What do you mean, you are seven years old and cannot cook? D’oh! No…cannot put it down…must find out…have a pop tart.

 

Readers expect more now: In the early days of movies they used to hold the camera still and just film the scene. Then, someone discovered that if you moved the camera (the viewpoint), you could create a much more exhilarating effects. Before long, all movies had moving shots. Basically, it was now impossible to go back to the former method of just plunking your camera down and shooting.

 

Nowadays, books have a lot to compete with: TV, movies, video games, manga—which are kind of like books, but do not require much work to read, etc. Therefore, books have to work harder to get attention. One way of ‘working harder’ is to give more of a rush. Streamlining your writing is like moving the camera. It is a technique that produces a quick, easy to read story that is a lot like a modern thousand thrills a minute movie.

 

Less fluff, more story: Why does the Heming Way Style lead to more story? Well, it does not necessarily, but it might. Consider just the statistics. Take 100 authors. Put them in a room. Make them write a book. Now, take the same 100 and make them write a whole book—all those words—with virtually no adverbs or description. They have got to fill the space with something. If even a few of them do it by adding more story, more plot, those few books may well be better reads than the book the same author wrote that was not so lean.


So, a given author may write a better, more plot driven book that  is easier to read, harder to put down, and delivers more thrills. No wonder the stuff sells!

 

What have we learned? On the good side, reading more Heming Way books cuts down on your caffeine because you do not pause to drink coffee. On the other hand, your chubby, malnurished children eat nothing but pop tarts.

 

No…wait…that was not it. Let us start again.

 

In his Ten Rules, Mr. Leonard explains he was inspired by John Steinbeck’s prologue from the book “Sweet Thursday.” Steinbeck’s character said:

 
“I don’t like to have nobody tell me what the guy that’s talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks. . . . figure out what the guy’s thinking from what he says. I like some description but not too much of that. . . . Sometimes I want a book to break loose with a bunch of hooptedoodle. . . . Spin up some pretty words maybe or sing a little song with language. That’s nice. But I wish it was set aside so I don’t have to read it. I don’t want hooptedoodle to get mixed up with the story.”

 

For people who agree with these sentiments, the Heming Way is the way to go. It delivers. It meets the need.

 

But the reason that it is a school of style and not “The right way to write” is that not all of us feel that way. Some of us want to know what a guy looks like. Some of us want to know how he said the line. Some of us love the hooptedoodle.

 

Even Mr. Leonard, upon occasion. He finishes his 10 Rules by saying:

 

“Sweet Thursday” came out in 1954, when I was just beginning to be published, and I’ve never forgotten that prologue.

 

Did I read the hooptedoodle chapters? Every word.




Comments

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From:danialarin
Date:March 10th, 2010 03:17 pm (UTC)
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You forgot #11, make sure every conversation has at least three people in the room, and never give any indication of who's saying what.
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From:arhyalon
Date:March 10th, 2010 03:23 pm (UTC)
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This was supposed to be about the good side...I had to leave out a lot. ;-)
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From:johncwright
Date:March 10th, 2010 04:19 pm (UTC)
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“The right way to right”

Should this be "“The right way to write"?
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From:arhyalon
Date:March 10th, 2010 06:30 pm (UTC)
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Fixed.

Sigh. I should send these to you first.
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From:capnflynn
Date:March 10th, 2010 04:22 pm (UTC)
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I loved this article and the way you wrote it (go get a pop tart, haha!), but I just have to say: Dark Cherry flavor Starbucks? Sounds delicious!
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From:arhyalon
Date:March 10th, 2010 06:31 pm (UTC)
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;-)

It is really good. I had one yesterday.
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From:maradydd
Date:March 10th, 2010 04:40 pm (UTC)
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Lately I've been reading quite a lot of Victor Hugo. Now, my French is better than my Dutch, but still not that great, so I've been reading him in translation -- but curiously I note that although he does go into great detail when describing characters and places, he does it in such a way that it can be skipped should one want to do so. (I still have not managed to get through the several chapters describing what Paris looks like from above in The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.)

It is hard to say about the dialogue tags, since that's largely the translator's choice.
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From:arhyalon
Date:March 10th, 2010 06:32 pm (UTC)
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Actually the idea in the Steinbeck quote...about letting description be skipped but read if desired...is probably a good one. Let's everyone get what they want. ;-)
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From:cdenmier
Date:March 10th, 2010 06:08 pm (UTC)

Brings to Mind an Inner Debate...

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For me, this article brings up an inner debate that is always surfacing in the back of my mind: the western world is changing how it takes in information...is this a good thing to be accepted blindly or a tendency to be fought, even at the risk of becoming obscure? Or, most likely, a challenge for us to balance between both?

It sounds like a lot of these positive points boil down to making things easier to read for generations being raised less on books on more on soundbites, video games and television. There is a push in my career (online editor for a newspaper) to go along with these new trends almost without questioning: "That's what the younger audience wants, so we have to provide it or we'll miss them entirely."

Maybe this tendency sneaks into literary circles where "The Heming Way" is preached as a necessary rule and not an optional style. Perhaps it is preached as such with the unconscious idea that this is how literature must adapt to survive in the modern world. I don't know much of literature, though...I'm just thinking out loud...
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From:arhyalon
Date:March 10th, 2010 06:34 pm (UTC)

Re: Brings to Mind an Inner Debate...

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I think you are voicing exactly what is being said. (I've heard it said to me.)

But that does not mean it is necessarily true...or at least, always true. It might be a good rule to follow if you have no reason to do otherwise, but not if you feel led to do something more.
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From:jeff2001
Date:March 10th, 2010 06:54 pm (UTC)
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So, Elmore Leonard has adopted a writing style geared toward pleasing an audience of precocious, yet hilariously dim, hobos? :-)

You know, it could well be that Steinbeck was using Mack to lampoon the casually critical reader who's not intelligent enough to understand the hooptehoodle, and thus considers it mere nonsense...and didn't mean for that to become some standard for writers to follow.

But, as for selling and being widely read, this is all good advice. Most of the people on this list write in a very straightforward style:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_best-selling_fiction_authors

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From:arhyalon
Date:March 10th, 2010 07:03 pm (UTC)
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It would be interesting to compare a list of books that sold well with books that lasted. I think they have some characterists in common...but are not always the same.

Didn't bring that up here, as I was trying to stick to the strengths.
(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand
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From:bojojoti
Date:March 10th, 2010 11:29 pm (UTC)
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Enjoyable post.
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From:arhyalon
Date:March 11th, 2010 02:28 am (UTC)
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Thanks. ;-)
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From:jongibbs
Date:March 11th, 2010 10:21 am (UTC)
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Great post!

Thanks for sharing :)
From:deiseach
Date:March 11th, 2010 02:52 pm (UTC)

In which we discover that Sherlock Holmes is a follower of the Heming Way

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From "The Adventure of the Retired Colourman", published in 1926:

"The Haven is the name of Mr. Josiah Amberley’s house," I explained. "I think it would interest you, Holmes. It is like some penurious patrician who has sunk into the company of his inferiors. You know that particular quarter, the monotonous brick streets, the weary suburban highways. Right in the middle of them, a little island of ancient culture and comfort, lies this old home, surrounded by a high sun-baked wall mottled with lichens and topped with moss, the sort of wall– –"

"Cut out the poetry, Watson," said Holmes severely. "I note that it was a high brick wall."

For some purposes, e.g. casing the joint, the Heming Way is more suitable than others. On the other hand, I like when Watson blossoms out into hooptedoodle :-)

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From:arhyalon
Date:March 11th, 2010 03:14 pm (UTC)

Re: In which we discover that Sherlock Holmes is a follower of the Heming Way

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Ah, but no!

Doyle used both "explained" and "severely" -- not Heming Way style at all. ;-)

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From:annafirtree
Date:March 14th, 2010 10:29 pm (UTC)
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"What have we learned? On the good side, reading more Heming Way books cuts down on your caffeine because you do not pause to drink coffee. On the other hand, your chubby, manumitted children eat nothing but pop tarts."

LOL. I guess it must have been a Heming Way book, then, that I was reading on Saturday, when my kids got english muffins with cheese for dinner and only a particularly persistent conscience made me put the book down to sit with them at the table for 5 minutes before picking it up again.

Did you really mean "manumitted"? As in, "freed from slavery"? (I keep thinking, manumitted = emancipated, which sounds like emaciated = undernourished, but that wouldn't quite fit with chubby, would it?)
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:March 15th, 2010 12:54 pm (UTC)
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No, I meant malnurished. I assume I clicked on the wrong option in my spell-checker. I'll go fix it. ;-)
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