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

Fed on Language

Written By: Jessica Morrell - May• 02•17

A mind fed on such words as heaven, earth, dew, essence, cinnabar, moonlight, stillness, jade, pearl, cedar, and winter plum is likely to have a serenity not to be found in minds ringing with the vocabulary of the present age–computer, tractor, jumbo jet, speedball, pop, dollar, liquidation, napalm, overkill! Who would thrill at the prospect of rocketing to the moon in a billion-dollar spacecraft if he knew how to summon a shimmering gold and scarlet dragon at any time of the day or night and soar among the stars?

~John  Blofeld

Dance around the Maypole, Pieter Brueghel the Younger

Written By: Jessica Morrell - May• 01•17

Frederick Goodall, Raising the Maypole

Written By: Jessica Morrell - May• 01•17

Nail it

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Apr• 24•17

If I show you my character has great hair, you will not see her. If I tell you she has a tiny scar at the upper left corner of her lip from which protrudes one gray whisker–you will make up the rest of her face with absolute clarity. If I tell you my character is waiting in a car, you wont be ‘caught,’ but if I tell you he pushes his fingers down in the crack of the car seat where the ancient leather has pulled away from the seat frame, and pulls up a small coin purse with a faded in it–you will be mine.

~ Pat Schneide

Keep writing for the senses, keep dreaming, have heart




Writing as Resistance

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Apr• 06•17

April 29, 1:30-5:30

Multnomah Village, Portland, Oregon

Is the daily assault of politics and world news interfering with your peace of mind? Are you searching for ways to make a difference? Explore  strategies for talking back to the noise, find some quiet within, and propel your concerns onto the page.

Because some times especially call for potent voices, clear-eyed analysis, and informed dissent. But what form should this take: opinion pieces, essays, fiction, poetry, social media engagement, or a new hybrid expression?  And how do you achieve thoughtful explorations of themes?

First we’ll nail down survival skills for tying times, then we’ll explore various formats and options for writers. We’ll read together several examples; we’ll discuss tone, language, focus and effectiveness.  Together we’ll brainstorm  and share concepts, themes, and markets. And reinforce how we do not need permission to write about what worries us or fires our passions. Our special focus will be on stepping out of the echo chamber and into original thought tied to our own experiences.

Participants will begin a new work and have an opportunity to create a   community of like-minded writer.

$60 Pre-registration required. Workshop is limited to 12 participants.


Stretch as Far as You Can

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Apr• 02•17

I’ve worked  with hundreds of writers over the years and if there’s one thing I learned is that writers need to stretch as far as they can.

As in take the biggest risk.  Stage a madcap scenario or the bleakest dystopian future. Imagine the weirdest, most difficult character. Write about a topic that truly scares you. Or keeps you awake past the midnight hours, worrying, pissed off, twisting, tossing.

Step into your own unknown. There is no safe in writing if you’re writing truth. If you’re penning what hurts or what needs saying.  Write for the next generations.

The words and stories and nasty protagonists and your need-to-change-the world ideas are your birthright. 

It’s been said before, but open up that vein. Your wildest imaginings are needed. Your storytelling vision is essential to the planet.

Contribute to the adventure and wonderment  and betterment of humankind.

And do it right. Learning, always learning how to nail a concept or flesh out a character or plot a storyline.

Because these times we live in require all of us reporting and responding and somehow making a better world. Showing the way. Even if takes an evil or mad-as-a-hatter character to do so. Even if you are revealing parts of yourself you’d prefer to remain hidden.

Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

April is National Poetry Month

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Apr• 01•17

Find 30 Ways to Celebrate National Poetry Month here including a free poster designed by Maira Kalman. {Consider signing up for Poem-A-Day. So  easy.} Or memorize a poem. Better yet, write one. Then another.

Keep writing, keep dreaming, support poetry



Written By: Jessica Morrell - Mar• 29•17

The first thing that distinguishes a writer is that he is most alive when alone.

Martin Amis

Join me Tuesday, April 4 Willamette Writers Monthly meeting at The Old Church

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Mar• 27•17

Why Characters Do What They Do

Motivation, goals, and stakes drive fictional characters to act, take risks, and get into heaps of  trouble. And then more trouble.  These devices also reveal and distinguish characters, propel character growth, and create drama and conflict because opposition will interfere.

Motivation stems from a potent brew of a character’s traits, beliefs, background, values and subconscious drives. Outer goals shape scenes and inner needs complicate the whole shebang. Stakes drive a protagonist, and the best stories result when stake are personal and high. If the protagonist can just walk away without personal consequences, anything he or she does can feel contrived. But when he or she must accomplish something important and individual, it’s more believable and gripping.

We’ll look at examples of all these devices from various genres using fiction, film, and television. We’ll also discuss tropes to avoid, how to create opposing and complex motivations, and how to mix things up with new plot developments.


From an Editor’s Desk: Don’t Describe Nulls

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Mar• 17•17

Null as in useless, fluffy, redundant phrases and words. Clutter of the writing kind. They take up space but don’t add to meaning or resonance. Let me explain.

I’ve been editing again and have been working on some exciting projects. The cannot-wait-to-see-in-print kind. I’ve also been writing a few articles on style and how to communicate with verve and conciseness. Because often it’s not what you say, but how you say it. Maybe it’s because I’m such a word nerd, but often the writer’s style and voice stay with me longer than the story does. Same goes for mood or tone.

As an example, I just read Kent Haruf’s beautiful novel BenedictionA seemingly simple tale of a small town hardware store owner who is given a cancer diagnosis and not much time to live. The story tracks his demise so it’s an odd story to begin with, but it also tracks the characters in his orbit and weaves them all together for poignant moments and interactions. And Haruf imbues it with intimacy,  tenderness, humanity, and unavoidable truths. He also has a deceptively clean style, but the bittersweet whole packs a wallop. One chapter encompassing  an afternoon with 3 older women and a girl picnicking  in one of my favorite scenes of all time. Not much happens,  but there is naked freedom on a summer’s day that will linger with me for a long time. After I read it I felt so much better about the world. Imagine if more stories could accomplish that, although stories have many reasons for being. Here’s a review from 2013. For me, this novel has sold his other novels as well because I haven’t read his complete body of work.

Back to those pesky nulls. The one I see most often in writing is she nodded her head. Now sunflowers can nod in the sunshine and even follow the sun, laundry can nod in the wind, and trees can nod in the breeze. But on humans it’s only the head that nods. No shoulders or elbows. So you don’t need to mention head. Speaking of shoulders, only shoulders shrug, so they’re null also. She shrugged her shoulders. Because ankles don’t shrug. And either do eyebrows so don’t even think about it.

Then there are the gentle caresses when by definition caresses ARE gentle. Same with happy smiles.

Nulls often come in prepositional packages. I suggest you need to justify every preposition and modifier in your pages. They also pop  up in dialogue. Here’s a snippet to illustrate:

“I’m so mad at you I can scream!” Maria screamed at Alex.

Alex didn’t answer.

“And I mean it!”

Two nulls here at Alex and Alex didn’t answer.  Alex not answering delivers only a smidgen of information. What if instead the writer used subtext or an emotional response? Alex could clamp his mouth shut and turn away. Or  blink. Or smirk. Or chortle. Or choke.Or his eyes could smolder. Or shoot her a look filled with loathing, though that might be overkill. Or his eyebrows could reach up to his receding hairline. {Notice they’re not shrugging here.} Or cross his arms and scowl. Or busy himself straightening his workbench.  It helps to deeply consider the emotions you’re trying to evoke along with the tone you’re implying in the scene. Is it despair or aggression? What is the scene accomplishing? Resolution? Catharsis?

Nulls don’t get you there.

He reached for one of the glasses on the bar seems straightforward, but it’s not. He reached for a glass is enough said.

If you’re using quickly or most other adverbs like softly, slowly, hurriedly, frantically, stupidly and romantically  you likely don’t need them. You don’t need to move quickly; sprint, dash, or race. And please no sprinting, dashing, or racing quickly because it’s already happening.  You also don’t need soft whispers because usually whispers ARE soft. If it’s not, well then maybe an adverb is called for or maybe the character is hissing.

Use verbs as your workhorses–sputter, scutter, scuttle,  scatter, mutter, scurry, pounce, spew,  conjure, stagger,  jacked, leer, grovel muzzle,  and hobble. Can you hear the verve? Imagine the whinny? Choose the verb that best conveys action, emotion, attitude, or mood. Instead of He sat in the chair, go with: He sprawled in the chair. Or, He slumped in the chair.

Find modifiers that land with a jolt in the reader’s brain, illuminating, always illuminating. Cossetted, snooty, shrill,  addled, broody, bloated, ashen, bloodless, rudderless.  Reach for figurative language and fresh comparisons.  Eyebrows thin as seaweed. Tobacco-toothed smile. Penny knew she had lost her shine long ago. Men had rubbed it off, shimmy by shimmy.

Never very or really unless in dialogue.

Spot and correct clichés, tired and overused phrases black as night, each and every, above and beyond).

Good writing is subtle. Every word adds to the meaning. Choose wisely. Curate. Because now more than ever, stories matter.

Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart.