Ernest Hemingway on Writing Stories That Are ”So Real Beyond Any Reality”

I’m always fascinated by the interplay of reality and fiction, and how the best fiction sometimes seems more real than reality.

Reading these words by Ernest Hemingway on the subject were fascinating to me:

When you first start writing stories in the first person if the stories are made so real that people believe them the people reading them nearly always think the stories really happened to you. That is natural because while you were making them up you had to make them happen to the person who was telling them. If you do this successfully enough you make the person who is reading them believe that the things happened to him too. If you can do this you are beginning to get what you are trying for which is to make the story so real beyond any reality that it will become a part of the reader’s experience and a part of his memory. There must be things that he did not notice when he read the story or the novel which without his knowing it, enter into his memory and experience so that they are a part of his life. This is not easy to do.


Good writing is true writing. If a man is making a story up it will be true in proportion to the amount of knowledge of life that he has and how conscientious he is; so that when he makes something up it is as it would truly be.


You have the sheet of blank paper, the pencil, and the obligation to invent truer than things can be true. You have to take what is not palpable and make it completely palpable and also have it seem normal and so that it can become a part of the experience of the person who reads it.

Ernest Hemingway, Ernest Hemingway On Writing

Indeed, some of my favorite books have become part of my life. Some of the characters in these books live vividly within me, their memories being almost as real, and in some sense even more real than some of the real people in my life.

Part of that is probably because I have experienced the inner lives of these characters when I read them. Thus, we formed an intimate relationship that carries on long after I’ve put the book aside.

To give you just one example: Mr. Fusi, the barber in Michael Ende’s Momo often comes to my mind when I try to be more efficient with my time. He stands out as an example that getting something done in less time isn’t the same as making better use of our time.

That’s what great fiction does for you. It brings a character into your life who teaches you a lesson that you need to be reminded of.

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