Hemingway’s Iceberg Theory–Advice for Amateur Writers

So some of you may know what Hemingway’s Iceberg Theory is, and this may be newer information for others. Most advanced and published writers will be aware of this theory, but if you are working on generating your first novel, transcribing it from mind to paper, then this is something to keep in mind to help you figure out just what to write.

Basically, the Iceberg Theory demonstrates the idea of the generic iceberg. When on a boat or over the water, only 10% of the iceberg is seen above the water, while the other 90% of the iceberg is underwater, unseen by the eyes on the surface. This is what should be true for your novel as well. A novel should show 10% of information at the surface of the words, while the other 90% is either A) only known by the author, or B) unseeable at the surface, but the information is there when you get underneath the words.

Basically, when writing a novel, you don’t want to make your reader’s brain explode with an information dump. While you may want to explain your world in your novel and its functions and histories, doing it all at once is NOT the best way to achieve reader understanding of your world. Rather, you should disperse that information among the entire novel. Some examples of good world reveal are Red Queen, Divergent, and The Hunger Games.

Red Queen spends Chapter One showing the differences between the Silvers and the Reds, and that’s about it. You get an idea of the world, that rations are worked for and Reds don’t really get good jobs. There is a war going on, but it is shown through letters from Mare’s brother and terrorist motives. The world itself is not exceedingly described, but rather only glimpses are given as the character goes through her story. The rest is up to the reader to fill in.

Divergent spends some time on explaining how the world operates through factions, but not too excessively. When Triss joins Dauntless, the reader learns more about the various factions through the exploits of the character, not through heavy explanation (although the same CAN NOT be said about Allegiant, because the explanation of the genetic war is the kind of thing a writer is supposed to AVOID).

The Hunger Games is a series based in dystopian America, reflecting the American Revolution. This is not actually explained in the series, but rather it is something that is picked up by the reader as they follow Catniss through the games.

So when looking for good examples of the iceberg theory at its best, check out those three young adult novel series. Those writer’s (mostly) know what they are doing! Remember, 10% above, 90% below! Keep in mind that Hemingway’s use of writing with the iceberg theory is just one of MNAY various theories and uses of the iceberg idea.



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