Summer in Words

Writing Conference

A story is a promise and other gems

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Bill Johnson is one of those people writers should want to know.  His understanding of stories and characters is deep and true and useful. He especially helps writers explore their characters’ psyches, wounds and motivations. Here’s an excerpt from the insightful Mr. Johnson:

Writing a novel with a dual timeline requires a strong understanding of story structure. The most common failure I see is that the character in the present simply relates information in a dramatically flat, uninteresting manner. Or, the intensity of events in the past are undercut by the certainty that the narrator will survive.

Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen, offers a good example of how a well-written novel develops multiple timelines. First, the opening prologue of the novel starts with what in screen writing would be called an inciting incident: here, that all the animals in the circus have gotten loose in the big top. On a character note, a fry cook mentions to the narrator, “Besides,” he said, locking eyes with me, “it seems to me you’ve got a lot to lose right now.” He raised his eyebrows for emphasis. My heart skipped a beat.

Author: jessicapage2

Jessica Page Morrell lives near Portland, Oregon where she is surrounded by writers and watches the sky all its moods and shades. She’s the author of Thanks, But This Isn’t For Us, A (Sort of) Compassionate Guide to Why Your Writing is Being Rejected; Bullies, Bastards & Bitches, How to Write the Bad Guys in Fiction; The Writer’s I Ching: Wisdom for the Creative Life, Voices from the Street; Between the Lines: Master The Subtle Elements Of Fiction Writing; and Writing Out the Storm. Morrell works as a highly-sought after developmental editor because if your characters are a bundle of quirks and inconsistencies, or the plot stalls and the scenes don’t flow, these problems need to be unriddled before you submit it to an agent or editor. She also works on memoirs and nonfiction books with a special focus on the inner logic and voice of each manuscript. She began teaching writers in 1991 and now teaches through a series of workshops in the Northwest and at writing conferences throughout North America and lectures to various writing organizations. She is the former writing expert at which was voted as one of the best 101 sites for writers. She formerly hosted a series of writing conferences and is now focusing on creating online classes and workshops. She hosts a Web site at, and she wrote monthly columns about topics related to writing since 1998. She also contributes to The Writer and Writers Digest magazines Her former Web log is at

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