D.D. Johnston discusses James Purdy’s short story “Cutting Edge” as an example of how a seemingly insignificant conflict can make for high drama when it stands for something bigger. In “Cutting Edge” the question of a young man’s beard becomes the symbolic terrain on which an inter-generational battle is fought. The story is about moral values and the future of America, but all of this is left unsaid, lurking below the water – after all, when people argue they rarely refer explicitly to what they’re really arguing about. In this sense, Purdy’s short story can be said to demonstrate Ernest Hemingway’s “Iceberg principle.” You can read the full story here.
Continuing our series on common writing problems, D.D. Johnston considers why some writers become over-reliant on describing facial expressions and fidgets. Every minute our bodies do a thousand little things: we smile and twitch and scratch and fidget and sniff and lick our lips and blink and breathe and blow hair from our eyes. When we’re writing, every sentence impresses on our readers’ valuable time, and reading about the minutiae of human movement is rarely a rewarding use of that time. Of course, sometimes people’s gestures are full of meaning, and this is the time to describe them. After watching the video, have a look at Ernest Hemingway’s “Hills like White Elephants” in which Hemingway describes only a few expressions and gestures, and never describes them carelessly.
Our series on selecting material for great fiction takes a drunken look at writing about sex and booze.