Word by Word

Practical insights for writers from Jessica P Morrell

Gleanings: the possibilities of setting

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Aug• 03•21

In the July 28th issue of Lithub, Laura van den Berg on the possibilities of setting. She writes “In Florida landscape is omnipresent, from the soaking heat of summer to the blusters of afternoon storms to the lizards that find their way inside, appear on counters, tabletops, walls. Perhaps this accounts for why I have to know where a story is set before I can begin. I need a sharp sense of landscape before I can think about characters or events.” This issue contains links to four articles that will help you shape a story world. A veritable jackpot.





Written By: Jessica Morrell - Aug• 02•21

Gleanings: A newspaper man’s final days

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Jul• 28•21


What happens when you have a great life and you’re diagnosed with inoperable cancer and only have months to live? I’ve spent so much time ruminating on my past during this pandemic that I feel like I’ve already got a jump on facing the end, not that I’m planning on it happening soon.

Here’s a piece from longtime The Boston Globe journalist Jack Thompson about his final days, looking back, and looking ahead. He’s obviously a gem of a man, leaving all who love him too soon. Here’s the link to I just learned I only have months to live and this is what I want to say.



Written By: Jessica Morrell - Jul• 01•21

where does fiction come from?

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Jun• 24•21

I think fiction comes from everything you’ve done,  and said, and dreamed, and imagined. It comes from everything you’ve read and haven’t read… I think my work comes out of the culture of the world around me.  I think that’s where my language comes from.~ Don Delillo

Congratulations to Pulitzer winners

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Jun• 15•21


Where would we be without dogged journalists and writers who uncover difficult truths, facts, and problems that need solving? Who help protect our fragile democracy. Who work towards accountability and justice. My profound congratulations to all the Pulitzer Prize winners, including Darnella Frazier for her Special Citation for courageously filming George Floyd’s murder. Her courage and  level-headedness still astounds me. Her testimony at Floyd’s murder trial was elucidating and heartbreaking.

Here’s a link that lists the winners

And here’s a link to an article about what journalism students can learn from this year’s winners. Please support journalism in its many forms.

But you don’t need to be a journalist to make a better world. There are so many ways writers can reveal the truths of our times, truths of the human footprint on this planet. Songs that mend our hearts, stir our emotions, songs that we listen to  over and over because their meaning cannot be denied. Because reading, writing, listening,  especially songs and poetry, feels like soul to soul communication.

Poetry teaches us the power of language and provides solace. Phyllis Knight said it best: “Turning to poetry gives rhythm to silence, light to darkness. In poetry we find the magic of metaphor, compactness of expression, use of the five senses, and simplicity or complexity in a few lines.”

Reading feeds us. Essays enlarge our understanding,  introduce us to other worldviews, help us examine our culture and society.  Force us to examine our own opinions and beliefs.

Fiction transports but also teaches us empathy and stretches our imagination.   Stories decode, shed light on human nature and all our many trials. Teach us how to avoid other people’s mistakes. Help create a life worth living.

All writing forces us to think deeper, understand ourselves more, take stock of our ideas and skills.

Keep writing, keep making a better world, keep dreaming, have heart

The best fiction touches us

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Jun• 12•21

William Stafford

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Jun• 12•21


Written By: Jessica Morrell - Jun• 03•21

Need practical techniques for editing your own work? Still time to register for Secrets of the Dark Arts April 10

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Apr• 08•21

In case you missed my workshop, Secrets of the Dark Arts last fall, I’m teaching it this Saturday, April 10 at 1 p.m. Pacific Time. It’s part of the Mystery Writers of America Conference, Northwest Chapter.

Here’s the link for more information on registering.

Secrets of the Dark Arts: Revising, Rethinking, Rewriting

Revision is a learned skill and like many others requires a strategy.

This workshop is designed for fiction writers and memoirists to help you refine your first draft in thoughtful, organized steps. Step 1 begins with the macro picture that focuses on structure and determines if the central dramatic question carries through all the three acts.  It’s where you first address pacing and plug any plot holes.  You’ll make certain you’ve included all the necessary scenes and start weeding out the chaff. You’ll question if you need all the characters and subplots.  The first pass also focuses on balance and determines if there is too much or not enough exposition.

Step 2 focuses on making it more immersive while tracking your key characters, homing in on motivation and goals. Step 3 examines individual subplots, scenes, and dialogue. Are the subplots needed and can they be tightened?  Do the scenes contain tension and forward momentum and have you included cliffhangers?

Step 4 (finally!) means you’ve reached the copyediting stage where you refine until you cannot stand it anymore are satisfied.  You might still be tightening, fixing typos and punctuation, while placing “perfect words in perfect places”, amping up verbs and adding music to your prose through alliteration and figurative language. This workshop includes a cornucopia of cheat sheets and handouts as you learn tricks of the trade from a developmental editor with more than 25 years of experience.