I’ve been re-reading short stories by Ernest Hemingway recently. He really was some writer. Here is the opening line from one of my favourites, A Clean, Well-Lighted Place (1933):

It was late and every one had left the café except an old man who sat in the shadow the leaves of the tree made against the electric light.

Bam! Those twenty-nine (mostly monosyllabic) words put the reader right in there. I can picture the scene: the time of day, the place, the mood. But who is the old man and what is he doing there? It’s so brilliant.

This story hasn’t got much plot – the old man is a lonely drunk and the waiters want to go home to bed – but for me that’s even better. It’s a vignette of a little situation, a contemplation of dignified ageing. Who needs action when you’ve got ideas?!

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