Tag Archives: Hemingway

Writing Process (6 of 9)


That Dreaded Second Draft

…continued from Part 5: Critique

Aside from fixing all the grammar and polishing sentences, a good thing to focus on during a second pass are themes, character traits and general style and language. Here I really look at the story from a bird’s-eye view. How do certain characters talk? Is that consistent? Are their motivations clear and consistent? How do we see them change? Do I have convincing arguments on both sides of an issue? Is the audience feeling what I want them to feel at any given point?  How can this sentence be phrased better? How can I combine these two paragraphs into one well-spoken and concise sentence?

This pass may be the hardest of them all, and the hardest to keep track of. Use of character worksheets, location worksheets and anything else that might help keep track of things are highly encouraged.

Running through my story the second time, I keep a rather large one-sheet of notes for the polish phase … writing rules and snippets I’ve adapted over the years about things I like in good writing; little reminders for myself. Each story is unique, too, and I’ll add many notes specific to the story I’m working on in the one-sheet. It’s a cheat sheet and one should have no shame in referring to such an item.

Here are some helpful tips from some of our favorite authors:


Seven_tips_from_F. Scott_Fitzgerald


Writing Rules from other Authors

Author Zack Keller just recently put up a great post about Editing your book like a reader. Some really good stuff in there that I wholeheartedly agree with. I may even find myself cutting out entire chapters, as I read my story more like a reader. Certain things are just extraneous and don’t need to be there. I might absolutely love them. But deep down I know they shouldn’t be there and you just have to kill your babies for the greater good.

I polish, polish and polish the story until I am satisfied with every aspect and feel I have explored every corner of the world without going off on unnecessary tangents. This can take several passes. Patience is a virtue.

Continued in Part 7: Final Notes

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Writing Process (5 of 9)



…continued from Part 4: Rough Draft

I finished the rough draft! I didn’t think my story would end the way it did, and that’s a very good thing. I’ve surprised myself, even if I knew roughly how it should end. So I’m done right? Not nearly. The journey is far from over. Now that I have something to work with, I must look at it objectively. I compile my massive amounts of notes and address them. I try to get everything into Scrivener and flesh out any parts that are underdeveloped. Then, once I’m satisfied, I’ll look at my general outline. This gives me a chance to really get a bird’s-eye view and switch on the story structure part of my brain.

For structure stuff, I loosely follow the guidelines laid out in the “Hero’s Journey” and even more so in “Dramatica” — but I really just make sure that it makes sense. If there aren’t gaping holes, sections missing or double-beats, I move on. Story theory and story structure are really just tools to analyze what I already have. In an extreme void of creativity they can prove useful to find a solution, but I would never start with an outlined structure in mind. How could I? I don’t know what’s going to happen in the story any more than the characters would, living it out in real-time. They will inform me of what happens next, what they want and try to do and what happens as a result of it. Story structure would get in the way, and at best it would work but come off contrived and formulaic.

Now if there ARE gaping holes or if I’m just feeling like something is missing, I might turn to the old Hero’s Journey outline and see what it might offer. There’s volumes of books and seminars on the subject.


However, I took two years of story theory at CalArts that focused on the Hero’s Journey and I ended up learning more about constructing story from one year of Dramatica. I would urge anyone interested to check out their site, or take a trip on over to my professor Jim Hull’s blog, Narrative First (formerly Story Fanatic). Jim is an animator and story artist over at DreamWorks and really knows his stuff inside and out. He lays out the basics of the subject in his books.

Dramatica is more than a story book, however. It offers an interactive tool where one can plug in aspects of a story and it in return plugs plot holes, solidifies character interactions and helps complete your story in such a way that it will resonate with your audience long after they’ve put down your book. Worth taking a look, for kicks if nothing else. I honestly don’t use it the way it was intended, but knowing the story theory behind it has helped me out tremendously.


Once I’m satisfied with the working outline, I’ll scrutinize the details of the story a bit deeper and get more into research. More notes, adjusting things and rearranging. Some parts remain largely unaltered, while others are expanded or improved upon based on the research I find or connections I hadn’t yet seen in the story. The second pass is perfect for making sure those through-lines, themes and foreshadowing are well-placed.

But as I said, the journey is far from over. Here is where the really hard part begins. One has to make hard decisions and really start to craft the story. A lot of the time, my rough draft doesn’t even read like a story. It’s awful, some of it still in bullet point form or a very rudimentary sentence describing the sentiment or action. Hopefully, I’ve gotten down the core of the story and answered the questions: What happens to the characters? What choices do they make? How does it all unfold? What does it mean to them? How does it affect them? Etc…

After writing out an entire novel by hand, I’ll often forget what it’s like to be a reader. Since my book really isn’t at the stage where I can read it like a reader, I find it somewhat therapeutic and informative to pick up some old favorites and re-read them just to remind myself what a book feels like. If something strikes me, I’ll make a note reminding myself to try and apply it to my own work. There is no one way to tell a story and no right or wrong way to write. Ultimately it comes down to taste. I love both Hemingway and Fitzgerald, though they’re vastly different in style. The same could be said about any number of authors. Finding what resonates with you will help unleash your own unique style as it challenges what you innately find appealing or not.

I’d really encourage writers to go with their gut. Use trial and error and pick apart your favorite stories and films as opposed to studying structure and writing. That being said, there are some other books on story structure I would recommend to at least throw into your head (but only after you’ve already written your story). I would NOT recommend the popular book “Story” by Robert McKee. It’s purely critical and offers nothing to the would-be writer — and on that note, take anything these books say with a grain of salt:



Continued in Part 6: That Dreaded Second Draft

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Campfire Language

campfire-ipad1 copy

Despite the fancy phrasing and tickled sentences, all massaged and beefed up till they’re practically poetry, most of the language in some of the greatest books is ordinary and plain. And it should be. Why?


Complex sentences can be beautiful, but hard to digest and it’s exhausting if the entire novel is written that way. For a select few authors born with a gilded tongue, they can create a feast for the eyes of the reader. But most of the time readers want clarity. It’s easy to overwork a sentence until it’s the best thing you’ve ever written. But is it really serving its purpose? The story is what should be engaging — the characters and how they interact and react with each other and the problems they face. And the funny thing is, you’ll remember a book as having been much more elaborate and painted than it actually was.

Tell your stories aloud to a friend, to yourself, to your dog. If it starts sounding verbose and awkward to spit out … if you can hear yourself getting bored, eyes glassing over at the detailed descriptions … STOP. Re-write it like you were standing around a campfire, keeping everyone engaged. Your friend’s grandfather should be as interested as your ten-year-old nephew.

Walt Disney had a rule when he would pitch ideas around the studio. The moment someone looked away when he was telling them a story he knew he had lost them. He would often start over, changing the story on the fly for the next person he told, or finding a better way to say the same thing. Pitch your ideas to someone. Part of it, of course, has to do with how engaging your material is — but a lot of it is just the language. The simple way that you speak/write. It’s important to discover what keeps people engaged. Suck up your pride and experiment with that.

The Power of 2+2 in Description

Stories build on each other. What’s true for film should remain true for a novel. There are really never too many “complex” moments in stories. Any complexity comes from many little–but meaningful–instances peppered throughout the story. 

Whenever I start a new project, or if I’m stuck on some phrasing I’m not totally pleased with, I’ll turn to my dozen or so favorite novels for some re-inspiration. I was working on my latest book Wonderful World of Zombies and really felt that this one description was lacking that vivid detail I remembered from books like Crichton’s Jurassic Park. There’s a part that they cut from the movie (though, Spielberg added it in to the second film) where the kids are hiding behind a waterfall from the T-Rex. I remember the scene vividly in my mind.

“Timmy and Lex were shivering with fear behind the roar of the waterfall when suddenly, the Rex let out a bellowing roar as his giant head came crashing through the thundering veil of falling water with tremendous force in hot pursuit of the children.”

I’m sure some of you might remember this too, right? Wrong. Here’s how the text actually went:

“And then, with a roar, the tyrannosaur’s head burst through the waterfall toward them.”

That … that was it?! I thumbed through the rest of the book at random, just to see if my mind was playing tricks on me. Surely this was an isolated event.

Nope. All over the book, I found nothing but short, simple and concise phrasing with one or two very select descriptors attached to very plain language. At first I was so disappointed.

“The room was filled with yellow stones.” … ” It scurried into the underbrush, dragging a fat tail. ” … “The raptor snarled in frustration, twenty feet above him on the catwalk” … “Tim felt rain”

You’ve gotta be kidding me. It was so plain. So ordinary. And it wasn’t just Crichton. I found instances in Hemingway, Tolkien, J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, Dan Brown and more. 

Then, I realized why. When an author allows the reader to digest the story so quickly without getting caught up on how beautiful the words are, the result is 2+2=4. Just as John Hammond used frog DNA, the reader fills in the gaps in their mind and takes away the lasting memory of how the scene felt. In the end that’s all that matters. I remember one instance in particular in Brown’s The Lost Symbol, where the room was described as having “an impressive array of technology.” That’s really all you need. The right, simple adjective and the subject. People tell their friends about a book because “Oh man, it’s so scary. You have to read it!”

The phrase “Tim felt rain,” has become a staple among my fellow authors and writing partners. It’s a reminder to both go easy on the verbiage, but also to remember to let the story happen to your characters. But, we’ll save that topic for another discussion.

Everyday Language

I was also shocked at how many sentences started off with “and”, “but”, “so”, and any number of other conjunctions we were taught to be grammatically incorrect at the start of a sentence. I remember so much red on my homework. It was bad writing. It wasn’t proper English. It was wrong! Yet in so many highly regarded novels … there it was. How did they get away with that? Surely they flunked out of Creative Writing.

But no, when you talk to someone in person you don’t speak that way at all. And often times you’ll continue a thought in the next sentence, tacking it on to what would be considered a grammatically finished statement. So don’t be afraid of writing it the same way on the page …. See? Screw proper English!

It can be pretentious to speak so god damned properly all the time. Most of the time, you’re not going to impress your audience with overly-descriptive language and incredibly witty phrasing. There’s certainly a time and place to do that, and one should strive to say things in a fresh and unique fashion — but you’re not Faulkner. In response to such criticism, Hemingway once noted:

“Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don’t know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use.” —Ernest Hemingway, Quoted in: A.E. Hotchner, Papa Hemingway

It’s not to say the sentences like, “The raptors were snarling at Arnold when the animal on the left simply exploded, the upper part of the torso flying into the air, blood spattering like a burst tomato on the walls of the building,” shouldn’t be included. Because they should. And they are great. But they are few. Authors should remember to include language people understand and are used to hearing spoken out loud. Among friends. At a lecture. As if you’re sitting around a campfire with friends, family and strangers who all want to hear the tale you have to tell.

Some of the most memorable lines in history are some of the simplest and direct, deriving great meaning from their implication, and no more than three letters long.

“To be or not to be…”

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