Word by Word

Practical insights for writers from Jessica P Morrell


Written By: Jessica Morrell - Nov• 01•22

A starting place for fiction writers

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Oct• 26•22

Well, we’re galloping through October and the region is finally getting real, soaking, save-our-parched-earth rainfall around here. In fact, we had a booming thunder storm–a rarity in the Pacific Northwest.

But since November and NaNoWriMo {National Novel Writing Month} are just around the bend, I wanted to mention a few things about starting a novel. I was on Pinterest  and I spotted my advice posted there. And then I noticed people were responding to it. Naturally I was curious…. One woman mentioned how she’d recently dreamed about a specific character and situation, and car {fun!}, and woke up and started writing, thrilled, but clueless about where the inspirations came from. Another writer said planning wasn’t necessary and another writer objected that knowing the ending to a story wasn’t necessary.  Then a writer added, ‘just write.’

If only writing fiction was that easy.

I tried to respond but there was a glitch in the software, so here’s what I attempted to say: I’ve taught thousands of writers and worked as a developmental editor for hundreds more, including wildly successful, best-selling authors. And here’s what I’ve learned: The more you know about where you’re heading, the easier it will be to arrive there. The more you know about the building blocks of your story, the easier it will be to plot, and the more likely you’ll finish.

Now, of course, you’ll entertain new insights as you write. You might slip in subplots that weren’t part of your original concept. Characters could simply walk onto the stage without your prior knowledge, much less permission. And if you’re lucky, your characters  might whisper their darkest secrets into your ear. Those whispers were key because you had no idea your protagonist harbored such as raw desperation, unresolved pain or grief. That’s all part of the delightful, kick-ass, {often} joy ride called fiction writing.

But even some planning and dare I say, outlining also helps your imagination launch and stay on course.

While I’m at it, let me add:

Stories revolve a central dramatic question: Who is Jason Bourne?

Your protagonist is the person who will be most hurt and changed by the story events. The antagonist is the character or entity that  forces the protagonist to change in ways he or she most needs to change.

Your storyline will transport your protagonist into new emotional and phsycial territory.

Early on, define your protagonist’s core personality traits–these are qualities and strengths that will help the character achieve his or her goals.

Jason Bourne would never succeed against the dark forces if he was addicted to video games, not a total bad ass. And marksman. Not to mention tough, fit, guarded, alert, think-on-his-feet human action figure.

Understanding the difference between what your protagonist wants and what your protaonist actually needs, is crucial becuase you’ll create conflict that drives the story forward.

In Toy Story Sheriff Woody Pride wants to remain the leader of the toys. Andy’s toys. But mostly he wants to remain Andy’s favorite toy. In order to stay on top, he needs to take down the newest, slickest toy, the brash Buzz Lightyear. The thing is, Woody is basically a decent sort, and believes a toy’s role is to be there for Andy or kids in general.  When he goes against his own nature and starts to undermine Buzz, things fall apart and he puts them both in serious danger. And the other toys are not having it. What Woody needs are frends–the underlying theme of the story.

A character’s needs creates the emotional core of the story.

When your protagonist figures out his or her true needs, he or she undergoes a character arc–the necessary change the story illuminates. A character arc is the difficult path of growth, such as dealing with an emotional need, overcoming fear, limitation, trauma or wound. Because often your lead doesn’t know what he or she doesn’t know. Because characters, like real people,have false beliefs such as ‘I’m not loveable or I don’t deserve love’. False beliefs are potent because readers will likely catch on before the character does. Which leads to tension.

A lot of storytelling is about gaining knowledge–especially about the self.

It’s truely helpful to ponder these underlying factors. To analyze other stories.

To go deep.

Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

And those readers in the US,  please vote. Our democracy needs you.

The books I reread form a scaffold for my time

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Oct• 05•22

“The books I reread form a scaffold for my time and also a scaffold for my thoughts. I reread to mark the progression of my own thoughts, to agree or disagree with a sentence or passage, to further a conversation begun in the previous reading. Sometimes–this is rare though it happens–rereading does come to a natural ending. About ten years I reread every single book written by Turgenof, whom I read first when I was twelve, and after that I knew I would not return to his work for serious rereading.” ~ Yiyun Li from Literary Hub column on Writing Advice (The Best and the Bad)

Do you reread your favorite books? I do, though I’ve stopped rereading The Great Gatsby.

And isn’t this a gorgeous  cover? Li has written six novels, a memoir, and teaches at Princeton. I’m about to order at least one of her books–The Book of Goose is definetly a contender. I’m so intrigued, aren’t you?

Autumn has arrived in the Pacific Northwest. So far, goose flocks haven’t been honking overhead, but flowers are fading, the sky is becoming moodier, and moonlight somehow is more soothing, and even when there are no mists, mornings can feel misty. It’s Indian Summer weather and I’m still picking tomatoes, but I’m also starting to tuck away the garden. This requires digging up and moving plants, some rather large. I have more plants to move indoors than I have windows, but I’m looking forward to the crowding and the greens. And I’m so anticipating the burnished weeks ahead.

I’m going to share some thoughts on NaNoWriMo in weeks ahead.

Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart


Written By: Jessica Morrell - Oct• 04•22


Written By: Jessica Morrell - Sep• 02•22


Written By: Jessica Morrell - Aug• 04•22

Yes I am a dreamer.

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Jul• 06•22

Yes I am a dreamer. For a dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he can see dawn before the rest of the world. ~ Oscar Wilde

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Jul• 01•22

Why are we reading, if not in hope of beauty laid bare..

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Jun• 10•22

“Why are we reading, if not in hope of beauty laid bare, life heightened and its deepest mystery probed? Why are we reading if not in hope that the writer will magnify and dramatize our days, will illuminate and inspire us with wisdom, courage, and the possibility of meaningfulness, and will press upon our minds the deepest mysteries, so that we may feel again their majesty and power? What do we ever know that is higher than that power which, from time to time, seizes our lives, and reveals us startlingly to ourselves as creatures set down here bewildered? Why does death so catch us by surprise, and why love? We still and always want waking. We should amass half dressed in long lines like tribesmen and shake gourds at each other, to wake up; instead we watch television and miss the show.”

– Annie Dillard

Upcoming workshops at Chanticleer Author’s Conference

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Jun• 03•22

A chalky, gloomy sky this morning in the Pacific Northwest. We’ve had a few days of soft temperatures and sunshine and now we’re in for more rain, after record-breaking amounts tumbling from the sky. these past months

For those who stop by here, thanks. I haven’t been around much lately because I’ve been editing manuscripts and gardening–not an easy task lately since the clay ground here has been thick, slick mud. Meanwhile, the weeds are wildly enthused by the wet and are trying to stage a coup to take over the yard. I’m not having it.

I wanted to let writers who live in the region or beyond know that I’m teaching three workshops at the Chanticleer Author’s Conference on June 23, 24, and 25th in lovely Bellingham, Washington. I’ll also take part in a ‘kaffee klatch’ which means Kiffer Brown, the founder of Chanticleer and I will chat about language and writing–one of my favorite topics. One the 23 I’m teaching a master class Film Techniques for Fiction Writers. Friday afternoon the 24th, I’ll be teaching Your Brain on Writing–it’s about how the latest neuroscience research can help you become a better writers. On Saturday I’ll be teaching Dangerous Women about female characters who  You can find the schedule here along with registration details. The Hotel Bellweather located on the Bellingham Bay is a perfect setting for a conference. I’ll be around a lot and would love to chat.

Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart