What Is the Iceberg Theory?

The iceberg theory is a writing style characterized by a very minimized presentation of details within a story, which forces readers to read carefully in order to understand a much bigger picture than that presented. American author Ernest Hemingway is most associated with this writing style.

The theory is so named because, just as only a small part of an iceberg is visible above water, Hemingway’s stories presented only a small part of what was actually happening. The rest is up to the reader to derive by piecing together what is not presented within the text and properly placing it in context. Hemingway developed the style as a result of being a journalist, a profession which requires conciseness due to space restraints in printed newspapers. Hemingway believed that the application of the iceberg theory created the perfect short story, and the more details the writer strips away, the more powerful the story is.

Hemingway’s style is considered too minimal by some literary critics. Writing that employs the iceberg theory is most often criticized for creating too much dialogue and for its lack of descriptive passages. Such a minimalist approach is the same aspect that makes others fans of the style.