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

For National Poetry Month

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Apr• 17•18

A poem, as a manifestation of language, and thus essentially dialogue, can be a message in a bottle sent out in the–not always greatly hopeful–belief that somewhere and sometime it could wash up on land, heartland perhaps. Poems in this sense too are underway: they are making toward something. Toward what? Toward something standing open, occupiable, perhaps toward an addressable Thou, toward an addressable reality. ~ Paul Celan

Adrienne Rich on Why Poetry Matters

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Apr• 12•18

Every year when April rolls around and the landscape is nodding with new, soft blooms National Poetry Month happens. I spend the month reading poems, starting my mornings with a poem I haven’t read before. Reading about poets’s lives I’ve newly discovered while searching out these poems, and jotting down small glories and discoveries in my writer’s notebook.

One of my favorite lines about poetry comes from Adrienne Rich who said, “Poetry is the liquid voice that can wear through stone.” She was one of the most influential voices in the 20th Century.

To learn more about Rich’s life and musings about the power of poetry, check out the brainpickings issue that covers this topic beautifully. Here the Poetry Foundation summarizes Rich’s remarkable life and body of work. And here is a compilation of poems, essays, letters, and interviews.

Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart–and read poetry.

Ron Carlson: stay in the room

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Apr• 03•18

The most important thing a writer can do after completing a sentence is to stay in the room. The great temptation is to leave the room to accelerate the completion of the sentence or to go out to the den where the television lies like a dormant monster and rest up for a few days for the next sentence or to go wander the seductive possibilities of the kitchen. But, it’s this simple. The writer is the person who stays in the room. The writer wants to read what she is in the process of creating with such passion and devotion that she will not leave the room.  The writer understands that to stand up from the desk is to fail and to leave the room is so radical and thorough a failure as to not be reversible. Who is not in the room writing? Everybody. Is it difficult to stay in the room, especially if you’re not sure of what you’re doing, where you’re going? Yes. It’s impossible. Who can do it? The writer.  ~ Ron Carlson


Written By: Jessica Morrell - Apr• 02•18

Join me in Bellingham, WA at the Chanticleer Authors Conference, April 20-22

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Mar• 31•18

I’ll be teaching on Saturday and Sunday, April 21 & 22 at the Chanticleer Authors Conference in Bellingham, Washington as part of a stellar lineup of presenters and experts.  The conference begins Friday, April 20. You can find the schedule here and details for registering here.

There are a number of options for attending, including the Masters Classes I’m teaching on Sunday, the 23.. In the morning I’m teaching Learning from the Greats because I believe strongly in analyzing great writing to understand how authors achieve plot potency along with emotional resonance. Plan on reading some novel excerpts and short stories as part of this workshop. In the afternoon I’m teaching the Anchor Scenes of Fiction. In this workshop I distill the underlying story structure that’s easy to implement and essential to your understanding of fiction. On Saturday I’m teaching a workshop on Subtext, the River Beneath the Story and leading a “kaffee klatch’ What’s in a Title?   As usual, I plan on making the sessions fun and lively while mind stretching. I’ll be posting more information, so please stay tuned.

If you don’t live in the area, here’s info on lodging. And if you’re a tulip fan like me, nearby Skagit Valley will have a glorious tulip festival going on. It’s worth a visit too. The colors are gorgeous.

Take Care with Minor Characters, part 2

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Mar• 19•18

Sven and Olaf, Frozen

In fiction there’s a hierarchy when it comes to characters: the protagonist, antagonist, secondary characters, minor, walk-on, and stock characters. Let’s focus more on minor characters, shall we? Writers who neglect minor characters are neglecting an essential ingredient, like omitting garlic or oregano from pasta sauce.

Minor characters, like secondary characters operate in a strictly supporting role.

  • They are rarely viewpoint characters.
  • Don’t take up a lot of ‘stage time’ and readers generally don’t care about them a lot.
  • Do not have a subplot.
  • This means they’re usually ‘flat’ that is, they won’t change over the course of the story and they’re not fully dimensional. (There are exceptions to this.)

HOWEVER: Minor characters add color, verve, spice, eccentricity.

  • Make things happen, help advance the plot.
  • Establish the setting.
  • Provide insights or information about major characters. Without secondary and minor characters the protagonist would be isolated.
  • Prove that the protagonist has grown or changed.
  • Support the mood or atmosphere in a scene.
  • Breathe life into the story.
  • Disprove stereotypes.
  • Support themes.


To Kill a Mockingbird: Heck Tate, Calpurnia, Judge John Taylor, Miss Maudie Atkinson, Dolphus Raymond

A Christmas Carol: Tiny Tim, Belle, Scrooge’s former fiance, Fred, Scrooge’s nephew, Fezziwig

Harry Potter series: Colin Creevey, Katie Bell, Pansy Parkinson,  Padmil & Parvati Patil, Neville Longbottom, Cho Chang (to name but a few)

Hunger Games series: Madge Undersee, Katniss’ friend who gave her the mockingjay pin, Caesar Flickerman the television host, Effie Trinket, the District 12 escort, other tributes–Cato, Thresh, Clove, Foxface, Glimmer, Marvel,  (Rue is a secondary character)

A few more tips:

  • While a minor character can be quirky or sexy, he or she shouldn’t distract readers from the main events and characters. Generally the more you tell your reader about a minor character, the more you elevate his or her importance.
  • Use minor characters for humor or breathers in the story.
  • Minor characters should complete the story, create verisimilitude.
  • Give them a ‘job’ to do, such as a witness in crime novel. In The Hunger Games,  Marvel, the tribute from District 1 kills Rue with a spear through her stomach. Later Katniss kills him. Although she’s already taken out several competitors, she is now a hunter, not the hunted, a significant shift in the story.
  • Emulate J.K. Rowling and Charles Dickens and grant your minor characters silly, memorable, or suggestive names. As in Martin Chuzzlewit and  Sophronia Akershem, and Uncle Pumblechook.
  • Use minor characters to reveal class, ethnicity, culture, and the milieu of the story world.
  • Brooks, Shawshank Redemption

Don’t be afraid to give them a poignant role or to motivate another character as Brooks does in Shawshank Redemption. Poor Brook is elderly when he’s paroled from Shawshank. Problem was, he didn’t have the youth or skills to cope on the outside and ends up hanging himself. He serves as Red’s ‘anti-mentor’ in the story. Later, when Red the narrator is also paroled after spending years in prison, readers and movie viewers are reminded of Brooks’ fate. Will Red follow him? 


Language is a Freedom

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Mar• 09•18

For me, language is a freedom. As soon as you have found the words with which to express something, you are no longer incoherent, you are no longer trapped by your own emotions, by your own experiences; you can describe them, you can tell them, you can bring them out of yourself and give them to somebody else. That is an enormously liberating experience, and it worries me that more and more people are learning not to use language; they’re giving in to the banalities of the television media and shrinking their vocabulary, shrinking their own way of using this fabulous tool that human beings have refined over so many centuries into this extremely sensitive instrument. I don’t want to make it crude, I don’t want to make it into shopping-list language, I don’t want to make it into simply an exchange of information: I want to make it into the subtle, emotional, intellectual, freeing thing that it is and that it can be.

~ Jeanette Winterson


Creating Vivid Minor Characters

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Mar• 04•18

Last week I finished reading Melissa Arnold’s The Hazel Wood and I’m still thinking about it. Don’t you love how good stories linger in your memory, how characters ghost around after you read the final page? It’s a YA dark fantasy, the protagonist is 17-year-old Alice Crewe who has spent most of her young life on the run with her mother Ella,  and it’s intricate and magical with layers and layers of mystery and danger.

The story centers around a collection of bleak and grisly fairy tales, Tales from the Hinterland, written by Alice’s grandmother, Althea Prosperpine. The book is out-of-print, impossible to locate, has  a cult of obsessive fans, and Alice’s mother has forbidden her to read it. Then Althea dies and Ella and Alice settle into a mostly normal life in New York. But normalacy is ripped away when Ella is kidnapped, leaving behind a note warning Stay Away from the Hazel Wood. The Hazel Wood is Althea’s mysterious estate and Alice and her friend Ellery Finch, a fanboy, head out searching for Ella. I won’t give away too much, but I will mention that this story twists around  sinister and scary paths. It’s also about the magic of storytelling and books and the worlds we visit between their pages.

One device worth emulating was the care Albert took with all  her characters, including minor and walk-on characters. It’s a large cast so it’s important that they’re each distinctive. They are vividly drawn and imagined and add quirkiness, fairy-tale ambiance, and menace.

Searching for clues to Ella’s disappearance they hear about a copy of the rare book and visit the bookseller’s shop. Here’s the first description of him: The man who opened the door looked less like an antiquarian bookseller and more like a bookie. His tie was a loud yellow, his suit an exhausted brown. He had a napkin tucked into his collar that appeared to be covered with barbecue sauce.  

He squinted suspiciously at Finch–all wild hair, unzipped jacket, one restless hand stuck out for a shake. “You Ellery Finch?” he said out of the corner of his mouth, like he was trying to sell us drugs in Tompkins Square Park. 

“I am. William Perks?” The guy agreed and finally took Finch’s hand, giving it two good pumps. I held mine out, but he kissed it instead. I resisted the urge to wipe it on my wrinkled uniform skirt.   

“Come in. Come in. Would you believe I just got the book you’re looking for this morning?” I knew it wouldn’t be long before collectors started sniffing me out–it’s the first one I’ve ever had in stock, and only the second I’ve seen. I’ll be damned if the quality on this one isn’t high, high, high.”

His patter made him sound like a county-fair auctioneer, but at least he wasn’t treating us like children. I’d anticipated a tidy little bookshop, lined with leather volumes and looking a bit like Finch’s library, but what I got was a mind-boggling riot of bookshelves that started a few yards from the door, standing at all angles and punctuated by free-range stacks rising from the ground, in a room that smelled like paste and paper and the animal tang of vellum. And barbecue. Perks led us to a glass case in the back, full of books open like butterflies. Finch frowned. “Bad for the spines,” he muttered.

“So I’m gonna wash my hands real good, then I’m going to bring you what you seek. ” Perks put his palms together, bowed to us, and exited the room. 

“Do you think he really got it this morning?” I asked Finch, low.

He shrugged. “Stranger things have happened. Like, recently.”

Perks zoomed back in before I could reply. I had the idea that he was as eager to sell as we were to buy. 

I was right, but not for the reason I thought.

“Here she is,” he said softly, slipping the book from the paper sleeve. 

The sight of its embossed leather cover, dull gold on green, made my breath catch. It was the book at last, soft and inviting and perfectly sized for holding. 

Notice how the store also characterizes Perks. Can’t you easily imagine him and his store? Notice how Albert used associations bookie and county-fair auctioneer to bring his character into clearer focus? Notice how the scene includes smells to amplify reality?

To read an excerpt go here.

more to come….

Write a lot

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Feb• 22•18

Write a lot. And I mean a lot. I once read that being a writer was not a hobby, it was an affliction. That rings true for me. I’m forever trying out new stories, trying out new opening chapters, etc.  Only a small portion of these ideas ends up on the to do pile on my word processor……And write regularly.  Set yourself targets as in I will not stop until I have completed 1,000 words. Occasionally I hire a cottage for a week to concentrate on launching myself into a new book. The pattern is to write 2,000 words in the morning.Then have lunch and go for a long walk on the beach.  Then write 2,000 words in the afternoon, have dinner, a bath and write 2,000 words in the evening. By the end of the week I usually have a fifth to a quarter of the book in the bag.

 ~ Simon Scarrow 

Writing may or may not be your salavation

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Feb• 17•18

Writing may or may not be your salvation; it might or might not be your destiny. But that does not matter. What matters right now are the words, one after another. Find the next word. Right it down. ~ Neil Gaiman