jessicamorrell.com

The online home of Jessica Morrell, because stories matter

Slightly Crazy: Map Your Course to Survive NaNoWriMo

Written By: jessicap - Oct• 31•14

I’ve heard NaNoWriMo referred to as the writers’ version of running with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain; a tequila hangover, a 30-day migraine, and an icy plunge into Lake Michigan in January, except you can’t escape from the water.

polar bear plunge
Then again some writers relish this annual mad dash.
It teaches you to show up. it teaches you how immersive and powerful writing can be.

It teaches you to write even when you want to roll over and hit the pillow for another hour.

It teaches you what you know and, alas, what you still don’t know about your story, your characters, and fiction structure.

As to that last point–here’s some information to lend a hand from my forthcoming book, White Heat: Zero to Novel in 90 Days.

compass old schoolMap Your Course
All the major things have been planned since the beginning, since the early 90s, the major deaths and the general direction of things. Obviously, the details and the minor things have been things that I’ve discovered along the way, part of the fun of writing the books is making these discoveries along the journey. But the general structure of the books has been in my head all along.

~ George R.R. Martin

Great stories that survive the ages don’t happen randomly or through some magical technique or lucky accident; they are designed. Centuries-old patterns and structures are at work beneath the happenings of the story, shoring up your characters’ lives. And these structures are easily understood and implemented.

Thus it’s time for a deep breath dear soon-to-be a serious writer. You’re going to take what you know about your story and create a map for going forward. Let me explain my bias for using this step: I have met and worked with thousands (and no, I didn’t mean to write hundreds) of writers over the past twenty-plus years and have observed that writers who map out their novels beforehand finish them more often and their stories are more cohesive, potent, and logical.

While I know this whole substratal, forget about plotting, writing-by-the-seat-of-road map 2your-pants approach is supposed to be genius; it’s also endlessly complicating and nerve-wracking. You’re forced to keep reinventing, adding on, and guessing about your direction. It leads to doubts and a lot of revisions. Pre-planning simply works.

You need to know your destination before you start writing, not discover it while you’re on the road. A map, no matter how tattered, lends confidence making the whole process easier and less intimidating. It prevents you from hitting dead ends and ending up with a patchwork quilt that happens to writers who keep cobbling ideas and subplots together, frequently changing their minds and the storyline direction. When you write towards a good ending you also write scenes and twists that lead to it.

Mapping or plotting out a story doesn’t mean that you can never veer off the highway—or your original plan—and take a scenic route. You can add another subplot or character or tweak the ending. You’re never stuck with every detail of your original concept if you figure out something better as you write along. In fact, if you’re wise you’ll continue brainstorming and finding new avenues throughout the process.

What I’m stressing here is that you start off your writing process using logic and you use logic throughout the time you bang out this story. You’re going to create a first act that sets up a story, a middle act that complicates and tests your protagonist, and an ending that answers to the story question. You think and plan with the three-act structure in mind. You know your protagonist inside and out. You nail down the central question so you can forge ahead.
Before you sit down to write a novel, here are essentials you’ll need.
1. A knowable protagonist who will fascinate readers.
2. A problem that needs solving or a goal that needs reaching.
3. An understanding of your protagonist’s inner and outer desires.
4. An interesting, workable locale.
5. A menace/threat hanging over the protagonist.
6. An antagonist
7. How it will all turn out.
You might have just read that list and felt your heart sink because you’re not clear about exactly where the story is heading. You know you have a great idea, but….So take another tack. Write your first three chapters and come back to this list.

After three chapters or so you’ll feel a closer kinship to your protagonist, you’ll feel more centered in the process.

tip: Research shows that typing and writing by hand use different brain processes Cursive helps thought processes. It stimulates brain synapses and synchronicity between the left and right hemispheres, an effect that typing cannot duplicate. Creating maps, lists, calendars or timelines of story events is not only fun, but it stretches the imagination and forges new pathways into the story.

From Idea to Story workshop on November 8

Written By: jessicap - Oct• 28•14

exotic skyscape
     November 8, 9-4:30

     Tabor Space, Portland,           Oregon

 

 

 

 

Writers have long grappled with the problem of taking a flash of inspiration through the marathon process of completing a finished work. That flash is your premise. But a premise on its own is flimsy, must be build up and needs the perfect story people to bring it to life until it becomes a compelling, awe-inspiring tale of… whatever it is you long to tell.

This workshop, for writers of all levels, will address key issues that must be confronted if you are going to assemble a myriad of pieces into a seamless whole. These issues include finding a shape for your story; how to treat plot and character as interdependent; how to avoid typical pitfalls when working. We’ll discuss fears at play such as an inability to finish and how to achieve the habit of completion. We’ll cover the basics of plotting, or if you’re writing a memoir, choosing the right elements and order for it. Participants are encouraged to bring a brief outline of their plot and the first three paragraphs.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe’ll also cover:
• Determining if your premise is a true compass that will keep the story on track.
• How human brains are hardwired for stories.
• The basic underpinnings of stories—the anatomy of scenes and the all-important anchor scenes that hold it together.
• How believable, important stakes power the story.
• Strategies for handling pacing anxiety and the urge to pad instead of plot.
• Perfectionism, mistakes, and daring to make them.
• Making tough choices about what to leave in and what to leave out.
• How stories and endings are based on the protagonist’s deepest needs and fears.

The cost is $75. Prepayment is required to register. Contact: jessicapage(at)spiritone(dot)com

Motivational Mondays: Alliances

Written By: jessicap - Oct• 27•14

Alliances

Storms sent from Tropical Storm Anna roared through here last week leaving behindstorm sky a soggy, tousled world and scattered, fallen branches. On Saturday we took down bird baths and feeders and anything that could fly around in our yard, and pulled out flashlights, matches and candles. On Sunday after the storm passed through we walked in the park, marveling at the wind’s power, at the swept-clean feel of the air.

The big storms began on Wednesday, a day I ate lunch with four former students. We met at a restaurant perched above the Columbia River. Below us, a huge paddle wheeler was docked, the river rocked and churned, and the sky was low and chalky as rain blasted down. It was catch-up-on-each-other’s lives session and so much had happened in the intervening years that I’m still sorting it all out. There was the death of a spouse, breast cancer and a mastectomy, a marriage, illnesses, moving into a new house. Ross had lost his dog and a friend of more than 47 years the previous week so we talked about those losses. We discussed writing that was languishing and writing that was moving ahead. We talked about what we’d been reading, passed around a book, mentioned titles of must-reads, talked about grandchildren and medical marijuana and hard topics like religious differences and writers with personality disorders.

Our talk kept coming back to our former sessions and what was forged there. I’ve led critique groups for years and this particular group met in a charming yellow Victorian in a yellow room with lace curtains. We met every Wednesday morning for several years in the Victorian located in southeast Portland. We reminisced about other writers who had joined us, our shared joys and distractions. How other writers’ stories had not been forgotten.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA     What became clear is that  these critique sessions are  stamped in our memories via  our senses. The sun would  filter in through the lace, the  room would smell of coffee and  still-warm from the oven lemon  scones (I rented the room from  a marvelous woman) and we’d  laugh a lot. The writers were  working on memoir and  nonfiction pieces and topics ranged from a religious fundamentalist childhood to birding in Kansas to surviving medical school as a single parent. A lot of compassion and kindness and magic happened in that yellow room in that yellow house.

I drove home in a downpour that made it difficult to see the road ahead. Our full and fragile lives seemed crowded in the car with me as I navigated the freeway. The storm breathing down on me, I thought about how Ross was writing about his recent losses. I’d quoted Shakespeare’s  “give sorrow words” to him.

In all my years of teaching good writers, great writers, beginning writers, stuck writers, and not-so great writers, I’ve learned that you need comrades in the writing life. People who will laugh with you, will suggest ways to make your story better, will accept where you are in life. People who will care if you write or don’t write and will root for you to bounce back from whatever ails you. Allies, kindred spirits, writing partners, connections. If you haven’t found these folks yet, I urge you to seek them out, and hold onto them when you find them.

Motivational Mondays

Written By: jessicap - Oct• 20•14

Thoughts about living with awareness and openness:

We waste so much energy trying to cover up who we are clarita statues kissingwhen beneath every attitude is the want to be loved, and beneath every anger is a wound to be healed and beneath every sadness is the fear that there will not be enough time.
When we hesitate in being direct, we unknowingly slip something on, some added layer of protection that keeps us from feeling the world, and often that thin covering is the beginning of a loneliness which, if not put down, diminishes our chances of joy.
     It’s like wearing gloves every time we touch something, and then, forgetting we chose to put them on, we complain that nothing feels quite real. Our challenge each day is not to get dressed to face the world but to unglove ourselves so that the doorknob feels cold and the car handle feels wet and the kiss goodbye feels like the lips of another being, soft and unrepeatable.”
~ Mark Nepo

Written By: jessicap - Oct• 18•14

Writing-is-my-hearthfire

Matthew Quick on Writing

Written By: jessicap - Oct• 15•14

”  The most difficult part of the writing process was and is sending my words into the world. Writing is a very personal, therapeutic, and maybe even spiritual process for me. And the emotions I feel when I am sitting alone writing are very intense and often not what I show people face-to-face. But writing is an act of communication, and an act of faith—trusting the reader to be someone who is willing to shake the hand that comes up out of the page. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that I really should be showing people all these naked words I try to write passionately and bravely and honestly, that it does matter and writing fiction is not a waste of time, or a self-indulgent act. Believing that I really do have something to offer people, and that people need and will want what I send out into the world, that’s the most difficult part of the writing process for me. It’s a daily battle. The most difficult part of the writing process was and is sending my words into the world. Writing is a very personal, therapeutic, and maybe even spiritual process for me. And the emotions I feel when I am sitting alone writing are very intense and often not what I show people face-to-face. But writing is an act of communication, and an act of faith—trusting the reader to be someone who is willing to shake the hand that comes up out of the page. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that I really should be showing people all these naked words I try to write passionately and bravely and honestly, that it does matter and writing fiction is not a waste of time, or a self-indulgent act. Believing that I really do have something to offer people, and that people need and will want what I send out into the world, that’s the most difficult part of the writing process for me. It’s a daily battle.”  ~ Matthew Quick author of The Silver Linings Playbook

for more Matthew Quick go here

Silver Linings Playbook

New feature here: Motivational Mondays

Written By: jessicap - Oct• 07•14

“What’s your story? It’s all in the telling. Stories are compasses and architecture; we navigate by them, we build our sanctuaries and our prisons out of them, and to be without a story is to be lost in the vastness of a world that spreads in all directions like arctic tundra or sea ice. To love someone is to put yourself in their place, we say, which is to put yourself in their story, or figure out how to tell yourself their  story.” ~compass old school Rebecca Solnit

Advice from Don Delillo

Written By: jessicap - Oct• 03•14

Child's hand in mudFirst you look for discipline and control. You want to exercise your will, bend the language your way, bend the world your way. You want to control the flow of impulses, images, words, faces, ideas. But there’s a higher place, a secret aspiration. You want to let go. You want to lose yourself in language, become a carrier or messenger. The best moments involve a loss of control. It’s a kind of rapture, and it can happen with words and phrases fairly often—completely surprising combinations that make a higher kind of sense, that come to you out of nowhere. But rarely for extended periods, for paragraphs and pages—I think poets must have more access to this state than novelists do. ~DON DeLILLO

Registration still open for Claim Your Story Writing Conference

Written By: jessicap - Oct• 01•14

Lithia ParkOctober 4

You can find the details for the conference here.

Here’s the short version: a day of workshops and inspiration for $125 at the Lithia Springs Resort, one of the most charming places you’ll ever set foot in. Melissa Hart is the keynote speaker. I’ll also be teaching along with Midge Raymond.  Includes a catered lunch and beverages.

Also, there is a scholarship available for a writer in need.

In case you have never visited,  Ashland, OR is stunning in the autumn.

Quick Tip:

Written By: jessicap - Sep• 27•14

bare branches against sky

     Leave room in your story for the grey area between right and wrong. This is especially powerful when a character wrestles with a moral dilemma.