Author. Word gatherer. Developmental editor. Teacher & Coach. Encourager.

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Sep• 02•16

autumn highway

“This strangely still pause between summer and autumn, greenery and gold, and the heat and rising wind that is once again readying itself to rush it all away in a climactic symphony of colour and scent is – in my opinion, one of the best parts of living on Earth.”  – Victoria Erickson

Location, location, location!

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Aug• 17•16

locationAs a follow-up to the workshop I taught last weekend at the Willamette Writers Conference, here are tips and hacks for creating a fictional world that resonates and causes things to happen:

  • The spirit and traditions of a place are not just inert background or the canvas to showcase emotions; it is part of the humans at the center of the story.
  • Plan for a setting that multi-tasks: shapes the characters, causes things to happen, creates tension, forms a cauldron, etc.
  • Choose settings that naturally lend themselves to sensory details. “it smelled like jail…sore knees and loose assholes.” ― David Benioff, City of Thieves
  • Setting can be a catalyst for events and character growth as in Gone with the Wind.
  • Setting can be a metaphor for themes or concepts.
  • Use settings that mold characters.Atticus Finch and Tom Robbins
  • Put setting in motion.
  • Weave in imagery.
  • Write from deep point of view. Filtering a scene through a character’s emotions and perceptions can profoundly influence what the reader “sees.”
  • Scene by scene, ask what the viewpoint character sees, hears, tastes, smells, and touches in that particular scene.
  • Setting should help create the inescapable cauldron of fiction. Small town? Large family? Neighborhood? Mountain village?
  • Use archetypes since they’re part of readers’ conditioning & unconscious.
  • The key to using place to support the story structure is setting should force decisions.
  • Your choice of location can never be random. Write stories set in places that the protagonist finds meaningful and/or challenging. This can mean that your protagonist finds it difficult to return home, feels at odds with the place he grew up in, has outgrown the values of the place,  is a fish out of water.
  • Create a story world (and main conflict) that will showcase Indiana Jones and artifactyour protagonist’s main personality traits. For example, swashbuckling, bold, brazen, and adventurous Indiana Jones is perfect for searching out ancient ruins and treasures.
  • First impressions can be powerful. Use them via a character’s viewpoint and use them to also characterize.
  • Setting helps create the ‘rules’ of the world. An underclass citizenry is ruled by and serves the Capital, toiling in poverty and hardship.Animals talk to humans, are warriors, leaders, and sages.The German Army has seized Leningrad, the Russians are resisting, so they are under siege.And hungry.
  • Environments should create suspense…and surprises.velociraptor
  • Create a world of unease, asking yourself how you can make your protagonist uncomfortable, anxious, off balance by using setting.
  • Don’t dump/lump in details all at once—build throughout, tweaking the tension as you go along.
  • Draw contrasts.
  • Work hard at spatial arrangements
  • Use weather to heighten difficulties.
  • Look for the perfect details that are arresting, quirky, telling.
  • Try to use details that can change over the course of the story such as a garden that hibernates, blossoms, then fades. A family estate that deteriorates or prospers over time.
  • Use photos, lots of photos, for reference and inspiration. The internet is your friend: Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram, SnapShot, Google Images
  • Jot down concrete nouns and associations.
  • Create maps and sketch action scenes.
  • Create mind maps about the place.
  • Don’t explain the obvious or the normal. Contemporary readers are sophisticated and don’t need every nook and cranny explored unless the writer has a specific purpose in mind.
  • Use both wide-angle lens and close-ups just as with a camera.


First Plot Point is a Humdinger

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Aug• 16•16

fulcrumPlot Points are your linchpin scenes and there is no story without them.A plot point is a fulcrum and here it shifts the story from one act to the next. They’re planted periodically in a novel or screen play and push the story forward.

›Act 1 sets up the story then closes with a plot point. Kaboom!

›It will occur at about the 25% mark in your manuscript and it needs to charge the whole shebang going forth.

›This event ends the set up and the protagonist crosses over into new territory and becomes locked into the conflict. Sometimes this is called crossing the threshold or the point of no return. The first plot point is a milestone and changes everything.Linchpin

›Here are some characteristics of the first plot point:

  • There is no turning back. A plot point is a one-way gate.
  • ›The protagonist is often forced to make a choice or decision and this decision is life changing.
  • ›It might start a clock ticking, time running out.
  • ›The protagonist crosses a threshold—might leave home, accept a job or assignment,get handed a new case, somehow leaves his comfort zone.  Stories exist to send protagonist’s into new emotional, physical territory.
  • The central dramatic question is established if it hasn’t been already.
Godfather assination attempt

The Godfather assassination attempt

Plan for mega wattage.

›Many experts consider the 1st Plot Point the most important event in your story. So plan carefully for maximum wattage and fallout/repercussions.

  • ›This importance is based on the change (usually undesired) in the protagonist’s plans, status, future, desire, goals…..
  • ›It always delivers conflict or sets up conflict.
  • It happens when your protagonist is off balance.

The curtain falls and the story moves into Act 2.  (thanks for the opportunity to use humdinger at least once before I die.)

Act 2: without the sagging, dead ends, and wrong kind of disaster (as in boring)

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Aug• 14•16

I’m teaching at 10:30 this morning at the Willamette Writers Conference. For today’s schedule check here. For more information on the workshops I taught this weekend, please check back. Oh, and if attended my workshops, do drop me a line. Would love to hear from you. The conference, as always, was high-energy and brimming with fabulous writers.

  • The middle of a novel is not a mere transition rope bridgebetween the opening and ending, it is the heart of the story where the most complications and difficulties take place.

  • A potent middle creates anticipation and involvement building toward the climax.

  • The laws of cause and effect governs Act 2.

  • Middles reveal characters growing and changing and often desperate.

  • Act 2 must contain a pounding drive forward and increasing tension, suspense and complications.

  • The heartaches, complications, trials and obstacles in the middle become worse and worse.

  • Choices must be made.

  • The miseries in the middle become worse and worse.

  • The protagonist’s motivations increase and those motivations should create/exact a huge toll.

  • Act 2 will hold unanswered questions and usually some of them won’t be answered until the end.

  • Middles often contain a reversal of fortune along with a reversal of resolutions or goals forged in in Act 1. And yes, this is hard to pull off.

  • Middles often contain a character recognizing important truths about himself.

  • Middles also often contain the protagonist recognizing truths about another character’s identity, flaws or importance.

  • Act 2 can reveal the gulf/contrast between the protagonist and another character. Often these gulfs weren’t previously recognized or admitted.

  • Middles reveal the protagonist making difficult or excruciating choices as options are eliminated.

  • Middles reveal the protagonist facing internal and external conflict.

  • Whenever possible, use the pressure of time running out in the middle.

  • Whenever possible, reveal a betrayal or heartbreak in the middle.titanic breaking in half

The Writer as Prop Master

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Aug• 13•16

I will be teaching a workshop Prop Master Extraordinaire at the  Willamette Writers Conference today (8/13) at 3.30. You can find the complete schedule here.

Today’s stories are visual and props help bring them to life. A prop is any object that can be moved and includes clothing, furniture, cars, and guns.

juno hamburger phonePersonal props are grand fun to invent. They’re also a handy shorthand to nail a character’s personality. And it all starts with knowing your character. Now as you write your novel this knowledge will grown, but the more you understand him or her going into the project, the easier it will be to write.

  • If my character had one adjective to describe himself it would be_________.
  • What is cluttering your character’s junk drawer?
  • What does he or she stash in the glove box?
  • What is found in his/her underwear/lingerie drawer?
  • Favorite or go-to wardrobe items.
  • Describe the contents of your protagonist’s refrigerator.
  • Does he she own weapons? Yoga mat? Bicycle?
  • What kind of car does he or she drive?
  • Does your protagonist own a pet?
  • What object in his/her apartment/home brings comfort?
  • What prop will help create empathy for your character?

TiDorothy and Totop: When planning a story, start with your protagonist, the person who will be most hurt and changed by story events.  Your protagonist —who is usually but not always your viewpoint character—is your reader’s portal into the story and the story world. The more observant he or she can be (curious, dazzled, apprehensive all work well) the more enticing the story world. A protagonist needn’t be a genius or even educated –think Huck Finn, but he does need to be accessible. 

Location, Location, Location

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Aug• 12•16

real estate signI’ll be teaching a workshop on Location, Location, Location at 10:30  today at the Willamette Writer’s Conference, in Portland, Oregon. You can find the whole schedule here. Please check back for the handout for this session. Meanwhile to get you started:

  • Where will key scenes take place?
  • Have you visited your settings if they take place in a real location?
  • What is your time frame, time span?
  • Will you be moving in and out of time or is the storyline linear?
  • What is the weather like and will it affect the story?
  • What are the social conditions?
  • What is the landscape or environment like?
  • What noteworthy details bring the setting to life?
  • What are the standards for creating setting in your genre?
  • How will you be using the setting to create tension?

Tip: Be wary of overkill. Description slows the pace of fiction. Choose the most distinctive details to make the place leap off the page. Also opt for breaking up the description with sentences and phrases scattered throughout the text, or broken up with dialogue or action, instead of clumped together on the page.

26 Writing Contests & Grants Poets & Writers

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Aug• 01•16

changing clockDeadlines are coming up! Find the details at Poets & Writers here.


Written By: Jessica Morrell - Aug• 01•16


Deep PoV is like Method Acting

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Jul• 27•16
Pirates of CaribeannAs a writer it’s your job to curate and guide your readers scene by scene through your story. Your narrator or viewpoint character is  the conduit or lens through which the reader ‘sees’ the story. Scene building begins with defining the conflict and action of each scene and understanding your  viewpoint character’s main feelings/emotions, how these emotions will play out,  and how his/her emotions will change by end of scene.
     Which means we need to talk more about deep viewpoint. Deep viewpoint creates intimacy between the reader and character. The reader penetrates and inhabits the character’s psyche, lives his or her experiences, feels what he or she feels.
     It removes filtering devices like she saw, or she thought, or she felt. Instead you’re plopping the reader into the character’s skin creating that intimacy I just mentioned.
City of Thieves     Here’s an example of deep pov  from the achingly-beautiful novel City of Thieves by David Benioff:
     “Don’t look so sad. You saved my life tonight.”
I shrugged. I was afraid that if I opened my mouth I would say something mawkish and stupid, or worse, that I would start to cry through a night like this one, and I was convinced that the sniper from Archangel was the only girl I would ever love.
Her gloved hand still rested on my cheek. “Tell me your last name.”
“I’ll track you down, Lyova Beniov. All I need is the name.” She leaned forward and kissed me on the lips. Her mouth was cold, her lips rough from the winter wind, and if the mystics are right and we are doomed to repeat our squalid lives ad infinitum, at least I will always return to that kiss.
     Writing in a deep POV is similar to  method acting. Lee Strasberg’s Method  earned currency from his Actors Studio and its offshoots. It teaches actors to link emotional moments from their own lives into their character. More precisely the actor excavates his/her  deepest and harshest experiences to lend them to a character.
     Similarly, as you write,  you need to slip into your character like Harrison Fordan actor slips into character. Like an actor preps for the scene, memorizing his lines, imagining it moment by moment, then dredging up memories in order to transform into his character.
     Here are some questions to help you out:
How is your character standing/ sitting?
How is he holding his shoulders? Head? Neck? Arms?
Spine straight?
Abdomen soft or tucked in?
Is is he tense?  Guarded? Scared?
How does he reveal his emotions? Feel them? Hide them?
What does his neck feel like?
What about his extremities?
What does his breath feel like? Shallow? Deep? Rapid?
What is he most focused on?
What is he trying to shut out?
Can he see clearly?
What about his field of vision? Is his focus on objects or characters close up or faraway?
Is what he’s seeing surprising, shocking, normal?
What smells are present?
Pleasant? Nasty? Scary?
What is his skin in contact with?
Skin tingling, burning, itchy, painful?
Body aches? Injuries?  Sharp pain? Dull pain?
Hermione GrangerSenses sharp or dulled?
Does he feel trapped? At ease? Steady? Wary? Off balance? Cool? Nervous?
Is he sweating? Cold? Queasy?
Distractions? If so, how close/ far away?
If he is feeling  calm, scared, confused or crazy where does he feel it in his body?
Is he sweating? Palms clammy? Heart rate?
Is he operating at full strength, half strength, missing sleep, wounded?
 Fun, isn’t it?

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Jul• 22•16

flame curled“To open our eyes, to see with our inner fire and light, is what saves us. Even if it makes us vulnerable. Opening the eyes is the job of storytellers, witnesses, and the keepers of accounts. The stories we know and tell are reservoirs of light and fire that brighten and illuminate the darkness of human night, the unseen.” – Linda Hogan
beyond the fields we know