The online home of Jessica Morrell, because stories matter

Writing = noticing

Written By: jessicap - Nov• 25•14

breakingoutofyourshell“You know what I believe? I remember in college I was taking this math class, this really great math class taught by this tiny old woman. She was talking about fast Fourier transforms and she stopped midsentence and said, ‘Sometimes it seems the universe wants to be noticed.’ That’s what I believe. I believe the universe wants to be noticed. I think the universe is improbably biased toward consciousness, that it rewards intelligence in part because the universe enjoys its elegance being observed. And who am I, living in the middle of history, to tell the universe that it – or my observation of it – is temporary?”
– John Green

Quick take: Complicated

Written By: jessicap - Nov• 14•14

Sonny The GodfatherPlan complicated quirks, flaws and weaknesses in your whole cast of fictional characters. But then make these quality have consequences. Santino, Sonny Corleone, the oldest son in The Godfather was impulsive and a hothead, but he was also a loving father and husband and believed in protecting women and children. When his pregnant sister Connie is beaten by Carlo her husband once again he rushes to her aid and paid for his tendencies with his life.

His impulsive interest in joining another crime family in selling drugs  during a meeting with his father is part of the first plot point and sets off a deadly chain of events.

Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

Thought for the day:

Written By: jessicap - Nov• 13•14

“No matter how careful you are, there’s going to be the sense you missed something, Bloody Handprintthe collapsed feeling under your skin that you didn’t experience it all. There’s that fallen heart feeling that you rushed right through the moments where you should’ve been paying attention.
Well, get used to that feeling. That’s how your whole life will feel some day.
This is all practice.” ~ Chuck Palahniuk
Invisible Monsters

Here’s one for Motivational Mondays

Written By: jessicap - Nov• 10•14

magic lantern     You know, I do believe in magic. I was born and raised in a magic time, in a magic town, among magicians. Oh, most everybody else didn’t realize we lived in that web of magic, connected by silver filaments of chance and circumstance. But I knew it all along. When I was twelve years old, the world was my magic lantern, and by its green spirit glow I saw the past, the present and into the future. You probably did too; you just don’t recall it. See, this is my opinion: we all start out knowing magic. We are born with whirlwinds, forest fires, and comets inside us. We are born able to sing to birds and read the clouds and see our destiny in grains of sand. But then we get the magic educated right out of our souls. We get it churched out, spanked out, washed out, and combed out. We get put on the straight and narrow and told to be responsible. Told to act our age. Told to grow up, for God’s sake. And you know why we were told that? Because the people doing the telling were afraid of our wildness and youth, and because the magic we knew made them ashamed and sad of what they’d allowed to wither in themselves.

After you go so far away from it, though, you can’t really get it back. You can have seconds of it. Just seconds of knowing and remembering. When people get weepy at movies, it’s because in that dark theater the golden pool of magic is touched, just briefly. Then they come out into the hard sun of logic and reason again and it dries up, and they’re left feeling a little heartsad and not knowing why. When a song stirs a memory, when motes of dust turning in a shaft of light takes your attention from the world, when you listen to a train passing on a track at night in the distance and wonder where it might be going, you step beyond who you are and where you are. For the briefest of instants, you have stepped into the magic realm.

That’s what I believe.

from Robert McCammon’s Boy’s Life Here’s the link. Boy's Life


Written By: jessicap - Nov• 05•14

exotic skyscapeI am offering a scholarship to my upcoming From Idea to Story workshop on Saturday. The information about it is a few posts below.

Also, the autumn The Writing Life newsletter has been emailed. If you didn’t receive it or need to update your email address please let me know.

Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

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.

• 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


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