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Hemingway’s Iceberg Model

In Death in the Afternoon, Ernest Hemingway states good writing is like an iceberg, only 1/8ths visible, the remaining 7/8ths underwater. In other words, a well crafted story lets the reader’s imagination take over.

One of the goals of travel writing is to put readers in the places we describe and have them come away feeling as if they were really there. In a time when many travel writing markets are online and attention spans are short, Hemingway’s Iceberg model still works better than ever.

Here are eight ways to avoid exposing the entire iceberg, global warming be damned:

1 – The universe likes action. It also likes speed. Use a variety of verbs, keeping “is” in any tense to a minimum.

Editing exercise: Try going through your manuscript and cutting or rephrasing every to-be verb. Example: Whole iceberg: He is an old man. 7/8ths: He bent over the cane, and shuffled forward, a step at a time.


2 – Easy on the articles and personal pronouns.


Editing exercise:
Go through your manuscript and cut out every the, an, a, that you can.

3 – Use the first person narrative like salt. It should enhance the story’s flavor without overwhelming it.

Editing exercise: Pick out anywhere in your story where the first-person narrative runs wild, then question: “Does all of this really belong here, or is it part of a different story?”

4 – Pick your adjectives carefully. One brilliant descriptor equals three mediocre ones.

5 – The perfect noun will help with adjective selection. Same goes for verbs and adverbs.

Editing exercise: Research the subject of your story until you fully understand the precise nouns, verbs, and adjectives. Is it a sailboat or a sloop? And when it capsized, were you tacking or jibing? Are the waves mushy or hollow? Go back through your manuscript and replace general words with the perfect ones.

6 – Use photos, music, and other sensory tools to help communicate the essence of what you’re writing about.

7 – Remember you are telling a story. Read it out loud. If it feels awkward, bring out the editorial scissors. Probably 75% of the original draft can be cut without losing the narrative flow.

8- Use description to convey emotions. This is also known as the object correlative. Check here for more details.

*The MatadorU Travel Writing program will help you build the skills you need to become a travel writer.

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