Summer in Words

Writing Conference

A story is a promise and other gems

Leave a comment

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 in 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 logic and voice. 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. In 2008 she founded Summer in Words, a yearly writing conference held on the Oregon coast. She hosts a Web site at, and she’s written a monthly column about topics related to writing since 1998 that currently appears in The Willamette Writer. She also contributes to The Writer and Writers Digest magazines, writes a monthly e-mail newsletter, The Writing Life, and a Web log at

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s