Memoir Writers, All Writers, Find Your “One True Sentence”

by Kendra Bonnett on July 19, 2010

catnav-alchemy-activePost #18 – Memoir and Fiction, Writing Alchemy – Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler

Ernest Hemingway_smallBack in March 2010, Matilda and I recorded a phone conversation on the subject of Ernest Hemingway and his quest for “the one true sentence.” I’ve now converted it to video and posted it on our Writing Alchemy channel on YouTube.

When I first came across this message in Hemingway’s books and letters, I thought it most inspiring. I mean, a writer of Hemingway’s stature ever in search of the one true sentence. It sort of puts all of us–famous writers and aspiring authors alike–on equal footing. We’re all in search of our best writing. And with any luck, we’ll spend the rest of our lives on the quest.

In high school, when I was first introduced to Hemingway’s work, I understood that his writing was simple and spare. To the point where he deliberately left out punctuation when he felt the meaning would not suffer. What I didn’t understand at the time was Hemingway’s motive. Why did he seek simplicity.

Hemingway wanted nothing…no word, no comma, no adverb or adjective to stand in the way of the story and his ideas. He wanted the writing to dissolve away and be so effortless to read that the reader only saw truth and clarity.

That should be our objective, whether we’re writing a memoir, and essay or a bit of fiction.

In his own way, Hemingway was saying the same thing as Stephen King when he rails on about adverbs and Rita Mae Brown when she makes her case for powerful verbs. Writing to show off big words, flowery adjectives, lazy adverbs only gets in the way of our story and ideas.

This is not to say that you should avoid description. Quite the opposite. But make your description rich, moving, purposeful and so detailed we can see the people and envision the scene right down to the smallest ant carrying a crumb of bread as it crosses the concrete paver on your front walk.

I hope this Writing in Five writing tip video inspires you to find your own one true sentence. I guarantee that if you take up the mantle of this quest, you will never put it down. You will spend a lifetime of writing trying to bring truth and clarity to your readers.

I can only wish that you have the satisfaction of coming close…because you’ll never quite get there. And that will keep you ever writing.

P.S. And speaking of video, as Matilda and I continue our quest to create our Writing in Five videos, we are always learning. We have been sharing our lessons, our thoughts, our experience with you, in the hope that you’ll all use video to promote your books. Today on Story Circle Network’s Telling HerStories blog, I posted a piece about going viral. I hope you’ll check it out.




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