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Author. Word gatherer. Developmental editor. Speaker. Wayfinder. Encourager.

Write Your Ending First

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Sep• 20•17

Rains finally arrived on Sunday to our parched region and for the past three nights I’ve fallen asleep to the lullaby of rain coming down. With devastating hurricanes terrorizing the south Atlantic and yesterday’s earthquake in Mexico, it seems selfish to complain about weather these days, but there have been wildfires raging for months here and I’m massively grateful for the rain.

Now onto the topic of this post: I want to suggest a way of writing  endings. As in the climax scene in novels, memoirs, and short stories. The emotional high point of your story.  If you’ve read my books or attended my lectures or workshops you might have heard me talk about how writers should know their endings when they start a story. Now, I realize that there are many, many ways to write a first draft. And that shoulds from people like me can drive you a batty. That some people consider the first draft as a process of discovery and getting to know their characters.

Nothing wrong with learning about your characters and unearthing the meaning of the story as you go along.  But if you’re serious about completing drafts, getting published, or breaking out as a writer, aiming towards your ending with laser focus is extremely helpful.

By now most of the world knows about J. K. Rowling and her Harry Potter series. You’ve probably heard about how she was a struggling single mother when she first hatched the idea for the series and started writing. It took her 17 years to complete the whole series. But what you might not know is that she also knew the ending for the  series from the get-go. This means that knowledge shaped every book she wrote, every character and subplot she included, every death and tragedy that happened. Here’s a fascinating documentary JK Rowling A Year in the Life that explains her background, influences, and process.

Here’s another idea you might want to consider: write your ending first. Before the first chapter or introduction. Nothing fancy. Just the bull’s eye you’re aiming for. Think about it.

The ending is actually a writer’s starting point. A target. And if you don’t like it, or your ideas change or deepen as you go along, well, then change it. It’s that old ‘not written in stone’ concept.

Still aren’t convinced?

  • Writing the ending first will keep your from wandering and meandering as you plot.
  • It forces you to focus on the resolution to the story problem and the protagonist’s goals.
  • Instead of looking back when you reach the climax and trying to figure out if you’ve laid a proper route along the way, you can write with foresight. It means you can also add foreshadowing as you go along.
  • This method is simply more efficient and will save you time.
  • It will help you weave in thematic significance.
  • It will give you insights about how much backstory to include.
  • It’s motivating.

Keep writing, Keep dreaming, Have heart

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Sep• 14•17

“That’s what we storytellers do. We restore order with imagination. We instill hope again and again and again.” Walt Disney

Winter is Coming so Move Forward

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Sep• 07•17

Yesterday was the full moon, also called the harvest moon. I haven’t seen the moon since Saturday because nearby wildfires, more accurately the smoke and ashes from them,  have shrouded the moon and stars.  Our region is grayed by a perpetual dusk, ash is falling eerily, and the air is nearly unbreathable. Gazing around the gloom I’m reminded of scenes from Cormac McCarthy’s nightmare tale in The Road.  

Last weekend a kid shot off fireworks in a pristine wilderness in the Columbia River Gorge, setting fire to thousands of acres of forest including old growth trees. The region is in mourning for this jewel of the Northwest, though on day six of the inferno firefighters are gaining some control. Meanwhile, the whole state has been ablaze, more than 300,000 acres, especially in southern Oregon and we’re just weary around here. We’re ready for rain.

And then there is the constant litany of bad news:  scary, monster hurricanes wrecking havoc in the south Atlantic, Houston and Louisiana still recovering from devastating Hurricane Harvey. North Korea, a rogue nation with an unstable leader is firing off test missiles. Donald Trump seems to have no idea how to govern. Hard times, but you already know that.

I spent the Labor Day weekend mostly indoors (watering is my hobby this summer so there were many forays outdoors to salvage flowers and thirsty tomatoes) and used the indoor time to organize my office, clean out files, and toss out old paperwork. And while it might take a series of disasters to bring all my filing up to date, I’m making real progress.

This week kids are back in school and so the neighborhood is quieter until they spill out of the buses in the afternoon. Well, the neighborhood is quiet because no one is outdoors choking on the smoke. It was only a few weeks ago that we gathered to watch the eclipse and something primal and rare and powerful took over. Somehow I feel like the cosmic effects still linger, don’t you?  Like it was a celestial reset. A new beginning.

As summer dwindles into autumn perhaps you can hit ‘reset’ too. On your writing. You can amp up your stamina, pick up the pace, shake up your routine. Because time is running out  to achieve this year’s writing goals. Despite the dangerous weather, our shaky leadership, fires raging. Because if you cannot write through hard times then you’re not a writer.

It’s pretty simple. You need to move forward no matter what it takes. Tamp down your rage and sorrow and worry. Or write using it as fuel. Whatever it takes. You need to block out all the noise of our times. You need  to stop circling around your pain, your outrage, your worry. Because not writing makes all this crap worse.

Maybe you can start planning for NaNoWriMo. Sign up for a class. Outline a novel. Revise a draft. Sure, plan another picnic or barbecue or trip to the coast. And pick those ripening tomatoes. But time is marching forward, autumn is almost here and winter is coming. Sync yourself with the changing season, align with hope, not despair. Re-enlist your purpose for writing. Because writing just might save you.

Keep writing,  keep dreaming, have heart

September

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Sep• 02•17

We’re writers, let’s bring solace and decency and justice to the world.

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Aug• 19•17

All I know is that I wasted all these years looking for something, a sort of trophy I’d get only if I really, really did enough to deserve it. But I don’t want it anymore, I want something else now, something warm and sheltering, something I can turn to, regardless of what I do, regardless of what I become. Something that will be there, always,  like tomorrow’s sky. That’s what I want now, and I think it’s what you should want too. ~ Kazuo Ishiguro

Neil Gaiman on the writer’s lonely road

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Aug• 16•17

It’s not a bad thing for writer not to feel at home. Writers–we’re much more comfortable at parties standing in the corner watching everybody else having a good time than we are mingling. ~ Neil Gaiman

The purpose of being a serious writer….

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Aug• 06•17

The purpose of being a serious  writer is not to express oneself, and it is not to make something beautiful, though one might do those things anyway. Those things are besides the point. The purpose of being a serious writer is to keep  people from despair. If you keep that in mind always, the wish to make something beautiful or smart looks vain in comparison. If people read your work and, as a result, choose life, then you are doing your job.

~ Sarah Manguso

August

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Aug• 01•17

Remember you love writing.

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Jul• 27•17

Remember you love writing.  It wouldn’t be worth it if you didn’t. If the love fades do what you need to and get it back

Remember writing doesn’t love you. It doesn’t care.  Nevertheless, it can behave with remarkable generosity. Speak well of it,  encourage others, pass it on.

A. L. Kennedy

Word by Word: Openings make a promise to the reader

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Jul• 11•17

It’s full-on summer. and nights are again growing quiet after the raucous explosions from Fourth of July celebrations. Roses are spilling over throughout town, heat blasts from the sky until it bakes everything below including the miserable clay soil I’ve inherited in this yard, the roads are filled with campers and trailers, vacationers heading to the coast and mountains,  rafters heading to the mountain-fed rivers, and kids in my neighborhood are on an endless loop of scootering down the hill past my house.

I’m starting a series here called Word by Word, because that’s how writing happens and because what I notice and prize most is how writers choose precise words to handle precise jobs that need handling. Sentence by sentence.

Bill Johnson, an author with intellectual heft, wrote a book  A Story is a Promise: The Spirit of Storytelling. In this helpful manual he describes how your opening paragraphs make a distinct promise to readers that the story needs to deliver. Johnson writes, “A story’s opening scenes are vital. If they don’t suggest a story’s promise, that story risks either not fully engaging or losing the audience.” Hang on to that thought.

Summers seem perfect for reading what a friend calls potato chip books. Especially in summer because it seems like summer is when I got to read a LOT when I was kid, although I was always reading. They’re books that are perfect for a crowded  airplane, a beach trip, or a bad cold. You don’t need to think too much, just keep turning the pages and enjoy. Like one potato chip after another. Oh, and make mine barbecue, please.  Lately I’ve been reading Chuck Wendig’s Miriam Black series. Miriam has the unfortunate ability to ‘see’ a person’s exact moment of death if she brushes against his or her skin. It’s not a pleasant gift as you might imagine More like a curse. And while I’m reading this series like I’m gorging on salty junk food, I’m noticing the techniques and devices he uses. And there is lots to admire, particularly the risks he takes with creating a vulnerable badass female anti-hero, an urban fantasy/horror world where there are lonely highways, lots of dive hotels that just might crawl with bedbugs and lice,  language that rockets into your bloodstream, and the nastiest of the bad guys. But I especially like to enjoy Wendig because he’s a demon god on a word by word basis  and his vocabulary for this series is scary, scabby and sassy.

Let’s return to the promise contained in story openings. Here’s the opening to Thunderbird the fourth book in the series: (the language below is R rated)

“Miriam runs.

Her feet pound asphalt. Ahead, Old Highway 60 cuts a knife line through red rock and broken earth, the highway shot through with hairline fractures.Big clouds scattered across the sky like the stuffing from a gutted teddy bear. The side of the highway is lined with gnarly green scrub brush, plants like hands reaching for the road,hands looking to rend and tear. Beyond, it’s just the wide open nowhere of Arizona: electric fences that contain anything, craggy rocks and and distant peaks like so many broken teeth.

Run, she thinks. Sweat is coming off her hair, into her eyes.  Fucking hair dye. Fucking spray gel hair bullshit. Fucking suntan lotion. She blinks back sweat carrying all those chemicals, sweat that burns here eyes. Don’t pay attention to that. Just run. Eyes forward. Clarity of thought and vision. Or something.

Then her foot catches something–a rock, a lip of  cratered asphalt, she doesn’t know, and it doesn’t matter, because suddenly she pitches forward. Hands out. Palms catching the macadam, bracing herself so her head doesn’t snap forward and crack in half like a tossed brick. A hard pain jars up her arms, through her elbows like a flicker of lightning. Her hands sting and throb.

She gets up on her knees and then starts coughing.

The coughing jag isn’t brief She plants her hands on her knees and hacks hard, and between hacks she wheezes, and between wheezes she just hacks harder It’s a dry cough of broken sticks and dead leaves until it’s not–then it’s wet, rheumy, and angry, like her lungs have gone liquid and have decided to disperse themselves up out of her mouth.”

Whew. Not exactly a stroll in the park, right? And it fulfills my first commandment for a story opening: a character must be knocked off balance along with my second commandment: openings must always raise questions that need answering. Like what the heck is Miriam doing running along Highway 60? And it makes a cold-hearted promise of more pain to come.

  • cuts

  • gutted teddy bear

  • electric fences

  • gnarly

  • jars

  • pitches

  • sting

  • rend

  • tear

  • burns

  • throb

  • cratered asphalt

  • knife line

  • wheezes

  • hacks

  • broken sticks

  • dead leaves

  • rheumy

  • craggy rocks

Word by word. What say you?