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Literary Minimalism

Hemingway was one of the earliest innovators in terms of this style of writing. Don’t confuse it with one of the elements of Modernism. As we will see below, it is still employed today.

What makes something minimalist?

Characterized by an economy of words. The easy answer is that it is short. But we can also have short works and works that use few words to get their points across that we would not characterize as minimalism. Henry James wrote many novellas, none minimalist.

What else should we look for, then?

Context often dictates the meaning. The reader is a “fly on the wall” of sorts, listening in to the conversations and watching the action unfold. Rarely do we drop into the thoughts of a character, even when the point of view is limited to that character. Think Nick Adams.

Why would writers do this?

Readers are meant to take an active role in the story. It is our job to figure out what motivates the character. We must infer the deeper meaning of the story from what we are given. Think Picasso, when considering our role in what is going on underneath–the essence of the work.

Iceberg Theory! 90% unseen.


1. Characters are unexceptional, at least in the traditional heroic sense.
2. Stories tend to be slice-of-life
3. Objective p.o.v.


1. Ernest Hemingway
2. Raymond Carver
3. Chuck Palahniuk
4. Bobbie Ann Mason
5. Frederick Barthleme

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