Tag Archives: a word fitly spoken

Writing Iceberg Stories


Ernest Hemingway once gave an interview in which he compared his writing to an iceberg. The words on the page represented the visible part of the iceberg. The part of the iceberg we do not see, which is up to 90% sitting under water, is the rest of the story.

Hemingway is the master of saying it without saying it. That annoys some people, but a few others and I find this the most compelling reading and the most advanced writing.

Hemingway’s Greatest Icebergs

These are just a few examples of what I’m talking about.

  • The Sun Also Rises – A nymphomaniac is in love with an impotent man. Hemingway never tells us he’s impotent, but still makes it clear.
  • A Farewell To Arms – They are not in love, even though they constantly tell each other how in love they are.
  • Hills Like White Elephants – A man tries to convince his girlfriend to have an abortion in a story that doesn’t even use the word “abortion,” or “baby” or “pregnancy.”
  • Ten Indians – Nick’s father lies to him about the unfaithfulness of his girlfriend because she is an Indian.
  • Big Two-Hearted River – This is pretty much all iceberg. It’s a story of a man who goes fishing. It has traditionally been understood as a man home from the war suffering from shell-shock. I mostly agree, but I think the man is still at war. He is wandering the battle front of Italy, but his mind is fishing back in Michigan.

The Best Example Yet

These are not the only examples, but just a few of the clearer ones. And yet, there is one work of Hemingway’s that uses iceberg composition so well, that I thought it should be set aside and discussed with a little more detail. I’m talking about the short story “Indian Camp.”

It’s a story about an eight-year-old Nick Adams who goes with his father, Dr. Adams, and his uncle George to an Indian camp near their fishing cabin in Michigan. Dr. Adams has to help with a difficult delivery of a child. Uncle George goes along because he is the father of the child. Of course, this is never said. This part of the story is submerged beneath the text, but is still a clear understanding. Consider the following facts from the story.

  • George’s boat arrives first.
  • George hands out cigars to others Indians there on the shore.
  • The woman in labor screams when Dr. Adams, Nick, and Uncle George enter her house. It seems she is screaming when she sees George.
  • The woman’s husband lays in a bunk above with a gangrenous wound on the foot (traditionally in literature, a wound beneath the waist is symbolic of impotency).
  • The woman bites George on the arm, and when he later looks at the wound, others Indians smile “reminiscently,” as if to say, “I remember when my wife bit me when she delivered our first child.”
  • After the delivery, the mother looked pale, which is a way of saying the baby is pale-skinned, which indicates a white father.
  • Dr. Adams says he should check out the father, who suffers the worst from “these little affairs.”
  • The husband had cut his throat during the delivery. He had known all along that he was not the father of the child, and now with the delivery his shame will be open.
  • Uncle George stays behind after Dr. Adams and Nick return to their fishing cabin across the lake.

These are all visible parts of the iceberg that tells us about what rests underneath. If you haven’t read it in a while, you may want to do so.

A Challenge To Us Writers

Even if you’re not a fan of Hemingway, if you’re a writer, trying reading some of his work, as well as the industry of other minimalists. Try to write something in a minimalist style, even if it is nothing more than an exercise. The value of minimalism to a writer is that it forces you show and will not allow you to tell. You’re writing not only becomes focused on details, but on those that are the only ones you need.

You may not wish to try your next novel or short story that you wish published in the Hemingway style, but having learned it, you will be a better writer. And who knows, but you might find yourself wishing to go on a fishing trip or see a bullfight. Now go and enjoy those icebergs, just don’t crash into one.

I can’t wait to read your thoughts on this. Please let me know what you think in the Comments section below.


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Job #1 For Creative Writers


As an author, you may feel as if you have many things you must accomplish when you sit down and write a story. But with all things, we need priorities. There is one thing all Creative Writers must do before they try to do anything else. First and foremost, tell a story. If you are a Creative Writer, you are a story teller first and foremost. This goes for novels and short stories alike. This seems as if it is so obvious it shouldn’t need to be said. But guess what? It does.

Some people get it in their head that their story needs to be about something. And while things like theme could add to a story, it is never more important than the story. I hate it when someone asks a writer what their story is about, and they go to discuss the themes and principles they are trying to get across. No! when someone asks you what your story is about, tell them what it’s about, not what it’s about. I hope that’s clear.

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Show, Don’t Tell


This is the A-1 capitol axiom of Creative Writing. When I took classes, this was something the professor said over and over to me and all of the other students. This is hard skill to get down, in fact, I’m still working on this one. I probably will be for the rest of my life.

If you are a writer, then you need to show us the action of the narrative. Don’t tell us how it happened. This comes down to using great verbs or weak modifiers, such as adjectives and adverbs. Clear action told with strong verbs makes a story a much better read always than anything else. If you show instead of tell, then you can take two sentences of telling and make into two, three, or four pages of wonderful telling (if not more).

When I was taught, my professor used an example from Fitzgerald’s The Last Tycoon, and I still use today when I teach Creative Writing to someone. It involves Monroe Stahr, the main character and movie mogul, talking to his head writer, a man named Boxley, on how to build a scene.

“Suppose you’re in your office. You’ve been fighting duels all day. You’re exhausted. This is you. A girl comes in. She doesn’t see you. She takes off her gloves. She opens her purse. She dumps it out on the table. You watch her. Now, she has two dimes, a matchbox and a nickel. She leaves the nickel on the table. She puts the two dimes back into her purse. She takes the gloves, they’re black. Puts them into the stove. Lights a match. Suddenly, the telephone rings. She picks it up. She listens. She says, ‘I’ve never owned a pair of black gloves in my life.’ Hangs up. Kneels by the stove. Lights another match. Suddenly, you notice there’s another man in the room watching every move the girl makes.”

Boxley then asks, “What happens?” and Stahr replies, “I don’t know. I was just making pictures.” Notice this is simple action, and it’s riveting. He feels no need to add superfluous describers, such as happily, triumphantly, or eerily. He does use “suddenly” twice, which I wish he wouldn’t, and if I was one of his editors, I would have struck them both. The point is that you and I are like Monroe Stahr, and like what Boxley should be, people who are just making pictures, or telling stories. That is hard enough and there is no need to complicate it with things that should be cut out anyway.


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How To Master Creative Writing


I officially turned my mind to Creative Writing in 2001, but I’ve had storytelling in me as long as I can remember. I took as many Creative Writing classes as I could and read as many articles on the subject as I could get my hands on. Every short story I wrote was an exercise in some aspect of putting a story together. Even now, I approach novel writing as trying to develop some feature of novels. I am always learning. I think it is impossible to know all that can be known about writing, and even then, being able to execute all you know will take a lifetime of work.

10,000 Hours

Malcolm Gladwell became famous for his 10,000-hour rule. He states that for someone to become a master of any subject, then they must put in 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. There are critics of this, but all they claim is that simply putting in this time will not guarantee you will become a master. But this is a misunderstanding of the claim. I see it as no one can become a master of anything without putting in at least 10,000 hours of deliberate practice.

No one is an instant expert in anything. You have to walk before you can run, or like my dad liked to say, you have to learn to dribble before you can slam dunk. I took this 10,000-hour rule seriously, and spent years writing short stories as exercises before I finally started a novel. That was 2006, and now it is 2018. I have eight published novels under my belt, writing the draft of my ninth while outlining my number ten and eleven. I have also written six non-fiction books and am writing my seventh. I even have a children’s book out there.

The Instant Expert

I have borne the dread of encountering far too many people of all ages who claim to be a writer but have no training. Either they are teens or young adults, and their mommy always said they were good writers, so they’re starting a novel before their skulls have hardened. Or maybe it’s someone older, middle-aged or retired, who always wanted to write as hobby. They, too, write with only a desire but no training. And without exception, what they write is poorly done.

No one decides to play the violin without taking violin lessons. And no one elects to become a carpenter unless they have had a shop class or two. Likewise, I never even thought about starting a novel until I had put in the time to learn how to write, years of training, still learning and still practicing. Whenever I teach Creative Writing I begin with a list of guidelines. Most of these are the rules taught to me when I was first learning how to write. I have modified them by my experience and continual study. Whenever I start a new book, I go over these again, and a few times while I’m in the first draft. If you’re interested in getting a hold of this list, email me at abbott.neal@yahoo.com. I hope they take you as far as they have taken me.


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Top Ten Articles from 2017


At the beginning of a new year, we look back and this about what we accomplished and what we neglected. It feels better to think about what he actually got done. When I reconsider what I posted her last year, these are my favorites.

10 Book Jacketing 7/10 – Give your story a definite beginning and ending place.

9 Animal Group Names & a Collection of Characters: Part I – Birds 1/9 – Describe groups of characters as a murder of crows instead of just a bunch, or a flock, or a herd.

8 Keys to Success 8/14 – To succeed you need to give it all you’ve got.

7 Animal Group Names & A Collection of Characters: Part II – Land Mammals 1/16 – Or maybe a thunder of hippopotamuses or a shrewdness of apes fits better.

6 Creativity: Part One – As Inspired by Osho 2/13 – Writing is creative, so to be the best you can, you must become a child again.

5 Alchemy of Authors 9/11 – Creative Writers take what is ordinary and make it precious.

4 Creativity – As Inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien 3/15 – Tolkien’s creation myth for his literary world teach us how to write stories.

3 Haute Cuisine & Creative Writing 6/12 – Great writing is like fine dining.

2 “There Are Two Kinds Of Men,” A Study In Foils From Doctor Zhivago 1/30 – A study in how foils in secondary characters can develop your main character.

1 “Of All The Gin Joints In All The World:” The Power Of Coincidence In Fiction 5/29 – Literature depends on things happening just so.

I hope these posts help you in your Creative Writing development just as they helped me. Here’s to a Creative and Prosperous 2018!

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My Brief Book of Whimsy, now available on Amazon and Kindle


Is War & Peace too long for you? Is Harry Potter too juvenile? Is The Da Vinci Code too ridiculous? More importantly, do you have a bathroom?

People with indoor bathrooms are amongst the most well-read people around. And while The Grape Of Wrath may be too sad for you to read while taking a nature break, My Brief Book Of Whimsy is a cracking good read doing something else that doesn’t require too much concentration.

Not since Blaise Pascal’s masterpiece Pensées has there been such a more splendiferous collection of aphorisms that will make you think. Mostly, they’ll make you think, “What’s wrong with this guy?”

My Brief Book Of Whimsy is the perfect companion piece for your other library, the one you actually use. It’s the number one book to go with your number twos!

My Brief Book Of Whimsy

ISBN-13: 978-1975849061

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Announcing A New Novel With Free Gift Offer


I am pleased to announce the launch of my eighth novel and thirteenth book overall, Ragnarok. It is set in the near-ish future. Texas secedes and forms a new Republic. It is a Red State Paradise. It looks at the love of power that comes at the expense of personal love.

Here’s how it reads on the back cover.

With Washington D.C. becoming more Progressive, more Socialistic, and more out of touch, decent citizens were getting fed up. When private ownership of guns was outlawed, that was when the government had gone too far. Texas secedes and Oklahoma joined them in a new Republic of Texas.

The Civil War was brief, but decisive. The leader of the Texas military, Wolfe Harran, was elected the second President of the new Republic. Even before he is inaugurated, he felt his power threatened. The pursuit of power became his obsession, but at a cost he could not afford.

The problem with any Utopia is people, fallible people, are in charge. When anyone chases power over all things, it’s always at the expense of things much more important, like love. The Republic’s favorite son and greatest celebrity, Johnny Mirandola, is used by Wolfe and by his enemies. Lives are sacrifices, as well as the Republic.

I am making a limited time offer for you who follow WFS. I’ll get you a free copy of Ragnarok if you promise to write an honest review when you’re done. This offer will be only for a short time, until January 1, 2018. If you’re interested, let me know in the comment section below. I’ll email you a pdf copy of Ragnarok. I hope you love it!

Ragnarok is available on Amazon and Kindle.

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I’m Lagging Behind On My NaNoWriMo Project!


I’ve been a part of the National Novel Writing Month since 2011, and I’ve won every time. In case you don’t know, the purpose of NaNoWriMo is to write 50,000 words of the first draft of a novel in 30 days. I usually crush it, done often by Thanksgiving. But I am so woefully behind. I might not make it this year (I will make it, don’t worry). Maybe you’re a bit behind, too. And if you aren’t now, you will be. Here’s my advice for myself, and I hope it helps you, as well.

No Stress

I may not win at NaNo, and you may not win. Big deal, right? There’s no prize, no money. So why do it? To say I did it. And if I don’t make it, will they send people out to my place to beat me up? No, so why worry about something so arbitrary as 50,000 words in 30 days?

Find Ways To Relax

One way to destress is to relax. I like to listen to music when I write. I don’t think about things like word count or hours put in until I’m done for the day. If I get stuck, I watch TV, and something usually pops in my head before too long. Stress will wreck any writer, especially one who tries this crazy contest where you don’t even get anything for winning.

Read Past NaNo Wins

All of my past NaNo projects not only hit the 50K in 30 days mark, they went on to be published novels. My last year’s project is done and will be launched at the beginning of December (I’ll let you know all about it when it happens). You can read your old stuff and either say, “Wow, I’m a good writer,” or, “Wow, I’m much better now than I was then.” Either way, you come out feeling good about yourself now.

Try The Big Picture

A lot of NaNoers win, but then drop it. What’s more important, hitting the 50K or finishing and publishing your novel? You can do both, and try for it. But if December comes and you’re less then 50K, keep on writing anyway. No novel is done after the first draft and most are not even a first draft at 50K words. Win or lose NaNo, just finish your novel and get it out there in the world.

This has been a brief article, but I need to get back to my novel, BOSS. I’ll let you know all about it next year or the year after when I get it published.

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Top Ten of my Favorite Comedic Plays


I love the Pink Panther movies with Peter Sellers. And The Three Amigos makes me laugh a lot, too. There are plenty of good comedy movies now, but they all stand on the shoulders of the comedic greats before them. This is a list of my favorite comedies, but these are from the theater the stage, as opposed to theater the movies.

10 Menaechmi by Plautus – Who knew the old Romans could be so funny? This is a story of identical twins and mistaken identity. I laugh thinking about it.

9 The Country Wife by William Wycherley – A man fakes impotence to get near the women he desires. How is that not funny?

8 The Silent Woman by Ben Johnson – A man schemes to get his inheritance by tricking his rich uncle to marry a man dressed as a woman, and hilarity ensues.

7 Blithe Spirit by Noel Coward – A novelist hires a medium to conduct séance so he can get material for his next book, but the medium conjures the writer’s ex-wife.

6 The Birds by Aristophanes – The quintessential “grass is greener” lampooning of ancient Athens.

5 Tartuffe by Molière – A con man who acts and speaks better than he really is tries to bespoil a family but is found out.

4 Dyskolos by Meander – A young man sees the girl of her dreams, but her father is grumpy old man, so marriage is not so easy to come by.

3 The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde – The play is about unimportance, and the triviality of Victorian society.

2 The Barber of Seville by Pierre Beaumarchais – The first and the funniest of the three Figaro plays, which pokes fun at the nobility and points out their foibles.

1 Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare – All of the old bard’s comedies are great, but this is the best. Cross-dressing, mistaken identity, practical jokes, and duel that never quite happens proves the play’s central theme, that some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.

Some of these will make you laugh out loud, others man create a giggle here and there, but they will all make you smile. If laughter is the best medicine, try a dose of these plays when you need a boost. You may have different comedic plays in mind for your favorite. Make your own list, if you like, but as always, enjoy these.

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Why I Still Love NaNoWriMo


I’m working on the outline of my ninth novel, BOSS. I’m doing this in anticipation of NaNoWriMo, which stands for National Novel Writing Month. It seems like everything has a month nowadays, and Creative Writing is no different. Now as November gets closer, I’m finishing my preparations so that when the 1st arrives, I’ll do my dead-level best to put down 50,000 words in a month.

Daily Writing

There’re plenty of pluses with NaNo. One is that it helps create or reinforce a daily writing habit, based upon whatever your need may be. There is no way on God’s green earth that anyone can write 50K words without writing every day. Committed writers need to be in the habit of daily writing. If this is not your habit, NaNo may be what you need. If you in fact do write every day, NaNo can bolster this already good practice.

Make Like-Minded Friends

Many towns have Write-Ins, where NaNoers meet usually one night a week and write together. We all like making friends. This is more so if there is some compatibility to jump-start the camaraderie. As a writer I know I like meeting other writers. NaNoWriMo provides a wonderful social component that helps you reach your goal of 50,000 words.

Increase Your Social Media Realm

On the NaNoWriMo homepage you can make buddies with other NaNoers. There is a clear social media component to NaNo. Based upon these buddies, anyone can make Facebook friends, Twitter followers, or even subscribers to a newsletter and readers to a blog. This is especially keen if your blog centers around Creative Writing subjects, like my WFS.

Support For Your Writing

Take all of your new friends you made from the Write-Ins and add them to the buddies you have on the NaNoWriMo webpage and you have a nice circle of friends, all of whom are writers. This can be tapped as a source for review and feedback. This is made easier if you also offer to read their works, too. And this is a potential, not just for his November, but possibly for the rest of your writing career, based upon how well you want to develop any of these relationships.

Forced Organization

No one can succeed in NaNoWriMo by writing from the seat of one’s britches. We must have an organized and systematic structure to our writing life, such as it is. Everything from outlining the plot to fleshing out the characters to scheduling time to write daily to gauging progress requires some sort of orderliness. We can only become better writers from this practice even if the other eleven months of the year we are more free and easy with our composition.

A Sense Of Accomplishment

When you hit the 50,000 word mark, you feel as if you have done something great. Even those who do not reach that mark in 30 days often accomplish a lot and have plenty to feel good about. Anyone who has ever written a novel knows that 50K is not long enough, and whatever you do write in 30 days will need a formidable amount of editing. The work is not done on December 1st. Still, you have you foot in the door up to your knee, at least, and there is light at the end of tunnel. Light at the end of the tunnel? Maybe that’s why NaNoWriMo is administered by the Office of Letters & Lights!



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