With ~120 writers already registered for our event, the Writer Unboxed UnConference has only a few remaining slots and our registration window is about to close. If you’ve been tempted to register but haven’t yet committed, we hope our session descriptions and schedule–and a discount code–convinces you this event is just what you need.
THE QUESTING WRITER / EXPLORING IDEAS AND SH*TTY FIRST DRAFTS w/ BARBARA O’NEAL: Madeline L’Engle says that story ideas come to the writer and ask to be enfleshed–but how do you know if the idea haunting you is the right one? Once you find it, how can you go about the work of discovering the heart of the work, letting yourself stumble, flail, and flounder without losing hope? Writers through the centuries have found ways to cope with the fears of first drafts, the hunger to attach deeply to the material and get that first, sometimes wretched draft down. Many of them have failed, discovered not the heart of a book, but the corpse of one and lived through it. Join us to find ways to grapple with all the manifestations of getting an idea, wrestling it into something real, and then getting it on the page.
WRANGLING WITH PLOT w/ ANNE GREENWOOD BROWN: Anne Greenwood Brown, YA and NA author who wrote the Plotting chapter in WU’s Author in Progress, leads you on a step-by-step course for plotting a storyline that balances the need for fresh ideas against the need for meeting reader expectations. The focus of this session will be on pacing your novel in a way that quickly engages an audience (literary agents, editors, and readers). This session will also include tips on using Scrivener®, as well as a discussion on popular novels and movies and how they hit (or miss) when it comes to pacing. Bring the manuscripts you’re working on or get ready to start plotting some new ideas.
HOW TO WRITE A SCENE w/ LISA CRON: Although your novel is made up of individual scenes, in truth those scenes are not individual at all, but part of an escalating internal and external cause-and-effect trajectory. That means that each scene is made up of myriad layers, which means that each scene performs myriad tasks – from moving the subplots forward, to giving the reader insight into the protagonist and her evolving agenda, to upping the ante in terms of what’s at stake, to causing changes that will ripple throughout the novel. Wow, that’s a lot! How do you keep track of it? And how do you get it onto the page so that all those layers merge to create what reads as a seamless whole? That’s exactly what we’ll unravel, giving you a clear, concise and concrete method of making sure that every scene you write serves the story you’re telling.
WRITE-LIFE BALANCE w/ CATHY YARDLEY: It seems like the key to succeeding in writing is “write more, faster.” But how do you do that, in addition to your other responsibilities (like day jobs, family, etc.) without succumbing to burnout and exhaustion in a creative Sahara? Learn how to cultivate a holistic “life” picture and create routines, rituals, and boundaries where creativity can flourish.
WRITING TRUE CHARACTERS w/ HEATHER WEBB, BARBARA O’NEAL, THERESE WALSH: Creating dynamic characters with rich internal worlds can be a challenging task–we are, after all, complex and paradoxical at our core as people. Emotions, thoughts, beliefs, and motivations all play a part in understanding our characters in a deep, meaningful way. So, too, must we understand ourselves. Learn how to tease apart these complicated personal effects, and how to channel into the heart of your characters.
THE IMPACT OF LANGUAGE ON STORYTELLING w/ KEITH CRONIN: A key tenet of this session is that applying a heightened focus on the language you use is NOT just a concern for those who write literary fiction. Whether you write cozy mysteries, gritty post-apocalyptic dystopian fiction, love stories about sparkly vampires, or even humor, the thought and decision-making you put into the language you use can have a powerful effect on the story you’re telling. We’ll look at finding a balance between trying to craft elegant/clever/beautiful/incisive prose, and simply trying to tell a story, and will explore the contrasts and techniques involved in writing “transparent prose” that doesn’t call attention to itself, versus developing a distinctive narrative voice. Bring your questions, thoughts, and your “how the heck do I put this into writing” problems for a lively and interactive discussion about the writer’s most important tool: words.
LEARN FROM THE MASTERS / EMOTIONAL TURNING POINTS w/ KATHRYN CRAFT: It is life’s great paradox: none of us wants to go through life limited by our inadequacies, yet we all fear change. That’s why we’re drawn to those moments in story where our protagonist undergoes part of the emotional metamorphosis that will define his or her character arc. It’s a glorious way to spend the word count you banked away through miserly edits in every other part of your manuscript. In this hands-on session we’ll steep ourselves in the craft by discussing exquisitely wrought examples from the masters, and then try it ourselves with a write-and-share exercise from a prompt.
COPING WITH WRITER’S BLOCK (a Book Therapy session) w/ JULIET MARILLIER AND KIM BULLOCK: “Writer’s block” is used to cover many conditions that stop us from writing, from laziness to clinical depression. Understanding our own difficulties is the first step toward finding solutions and developing ways to cope. In this session, Juliet and Kim talk about their personal experiences with writer’s block and their strategies for recovery. This includes dealing with the negatives: guilt, self-doubt, anger, frustration and so on. Participants are invited to share their own stories with a supportive, non-judgmental group of peers.
THE HIDDEN NOVEL w/ DONALD MAASS: A novel is what happens…also what could happen, what doesn’t, what readers anticipate, what readers believe, what’s good or bad and how all that changes. Explore dimensions of your novel that aren’t obvious but are nevertheless palpable—if you use them.
WRITING WITH THE SENSES (workshop) w/ JULIET MARILLIER: By becoming more mindful of our own sensory experiences, we can make our characters’ world and their responses to it come alive for the reader. After an introduction in which we look at some great nature writing in fiction, we’ll undertake a 30-40 minute walk through both natural and built environments, concentrating on using our five senses. On return we’ll complete a short writing exercise and talk about how to extend our own sensory perceptions to those of our characters in their possibly quite different world. Note: Participants should be able to manage a 30- 40-minute walk in Salem, at an average pace. Wear comfortable shoes. Writing materials are required following the walk, but the only notes taken on the walk will be mental ones.
CREATIVE VISUALIZATION w/ BARBARA O’NEAL: This 15-minute visualization exercise will help to relax and inspire you before the first part of our featured 4-hour workshop. It begins promptly at 9:45 and leads directly into the workshop. If you arrive late, please enter quietly so as not to disrupt those who are participating, or wait until the exercise is complete to enter the room.
STORY GENIUS: 4-HOUR WORKSHOP w/ LISA CRON
Story is about an internal struggle, not an external one. It’s about what the protagonist has to face and overcome internally in order to solve the external problem that the plot poses. This is why you have to know everything there is to know about your protagonist’s story-specific internal problem before you create the plot, and why this knowledge will then, with astonishing speed, begin to generate the plot itself. Your story will come into sharp focus as we work though 6 Key Story Genius Steps, revealing the essence – and the specifics – of the tale you’re telling, and creating the internal story logic that will drive everything that happens from page one until The End. If you’re starting from scratch you’ll be able to take a story idea from fuzzy to crystal clear so that you can write forward with confidence. If you’re in the midst of a work in progress, or even in the midst of revising, you’ll be able to do an in-depth diagnostic that will enable you to see what’s working, what isn’t, why, and best yet: exactly how to remedy it.
LEARN FROM THE MASTERS / SPOTLIGHTING TECHNIQUES w/ KATHRYN CRAFT: It’s so disappointing when your reader forgets a character, fails to see the significance of a story event, or—heaven help us—misses the point of our piece altogether. If this has happened to you, it may be because when staging your story you forgot to pay the union guy who runs the spotlight. In this “I Spy” session we’ll analyze and discuss myriad ways master writers highlight important information in their prose—(hint: it has nothing to do with italics, bold, or ALL CAPS!!!!!)—and then try our hand at writing one short YET VERY IMPORTANT! passage.
MAKING MEANING FROM MURKY CRITIQUE w/ ANNE GREENWOOD BROWN: Anne Greenwood Brown, YA and NA author who wrote the Plotting chapter in WU’s Author in Progress, will lead a group discussion about finding and/or creating a critique group that will inspire, focus, and encourage you and your writing. Anne will talk about how to use group critiques to your advantage, but also bring your own ideas. What’s worked? What hasn’t? Anne can attest to the fact her publishing career took off soon after joining a critique group that really worked.
SECONDARY CHARACTERS, SUBPLOTS AND FLASHBACKS w/ LISA CRON: As with just about everything that will appear in your novel, all three of these elements spring from the story-specific past. So roll up your sleeves, get out your shovels, and we’ll dig into what happened in your story before page one. Topics include: How to create secondary characters who serve your story without turning into plot puppets; how to create subplots that spring organically from the story you’re telling instead of distracting from it; and how, and when, to weave in flashbacks. All of this boils down to asking “Why?” of everything – and just like out here in real life, the real answer to “why?” always lies in the past. It’s what gives birth to your novel’s overarching story logic, providing you with an effective yardstick by which to measure the meaning – and relevance — of every word you write.
YOUR UNIQUE STORY w/ BARBARA O’NEAL: Every writer has one thing that belongs entirely to him/her: the unique combination of experiences, influences, and ideas that combine to create a unique and powerful way of bringing stories into the world. That singular voice can sometimes be diluted by external influences such as harsh contest judges, critiques from those who don’t know how to deliver them, and the well-meant influence of friends, critique partners, etc. Join this hands-on workshop to get in touch with your own powerful voice, or even just remember it. Need a pen/pencil and paper. Keyboards not allowed for these exercises.
CHARACTER LAYERS AND HOW TO USE THEM (workshop) w/ DONALD MAASS: Character arcs are how characters change—but in how many ways? Changes occur not only in conduct but in codes, values, relationships, understandings of time and more. Multiply your protagonist’s changes in this workshop.
CREATING CONVERSATIONS (workshop) w/ BRUNONIA BARRY: One of the most important aspects of writing involves receiving feedback from others, understanding what it working and what is not in your work-in-progress, and making revisions based upon what you learn. New York Times and international bestselling author Brunonia Barry describes her unconventional approach—directly asking future readers for feedback between drafts—including how she found readers, some of the roadblocks she faced with them, and what she did to overcome those areas of resistance. In the second part of the workshop, session attendees will share something from a published novel that didn’t work for them—or that did—as others agree or disagree with the critique and raise assessments of their own. Though this exercise, our hope is attendees will grow more confident in approaching readers, and in understanding the diversity of criticism and of the reading experience itself.
THE STORY YOU’RE NOT TELLING w/ DONALD MAASS: Every manuscript has missed opportunities of plot, character complexity, influence of time and place, moral challenge, genre testing and more. Such elements aren’t extra; they are the difference between fiction that’s merely entertaining or truly important. Discover what you’re missing and how to use it.
REVISION BOSS w/ CATHY YARDLEY: The first draft is for you. Every subsequent draft? That’s for your readers. Learn how to harness the three pass structure to ensure your plot is sound, your writing is solid, and your reader experience is satisfying.
LEVEL UP: MAKING THE GOOD GREAT WITH REVISION w/ HEATHER WEBB: Do you ever feel stuck in a rut with your revisions? Maybe you want to deepen your manuscript and take it to the next level– be the best, most professional writer you can be– but you can’t see the forest for the trees. Learn how to dig deeper, examine methodologies of the pros, and work with peers to tackle a troublesome area in your manuscript.
•Editing in drafts
•Organizational tips to suss out problem areas
•Examining methodologies of the pros/Working with craft books and other tools to go deeper
•Leaning into strengths
•Tackling a difficult scene
Participants should bring a scene up to five pages to workshop with peers and session leader for feedback exercise.
PUSHING THROUGH RESISTANCE w/ KEITH CRONIN AND SARAH CALLENDER: With an “unofficial PhD in Writer’s Block,” author Keith Cronin is uniquely qualified to lead our session participants on a journey through the many forms of resistance we writers can encounter – some common, and some quite unexpected – as well as techniques for overcoming those obstacles. Joining Keith in leading the discussion is regular WU contributor Sarah Callender, whose article in WU’s new “Author in Progress” book shares her own personal insights into this topic. Be ready to bare your soul and share your own pain points, in what promises to be a candid – and occasionally hilarious – exploration of the problems we face, and the solutions we’ve developed in our shared quest to “write on.”
A READERS MANIFESTO – 16 HARDWIRED EXPECTATIONS EVERY READER BRINGS TO EVERY STORY THEY READ w/ LISA CRON: We’re hardwired to come to every story tacitly asking one question: what am I going to learn that will help me make it through the night? We’re looking for inside intel on how to best navigate the unpredictable, scary, beautiful world we live in. We’re hungry for insight into what people do when push comes to shove and, most importantly, why. As a result, there’s a set of specific expectations by which we unconsciously evaluate every story — expectations that have nothing to do with the surface plot or how beautifully the novel is written. By decoding our hardwired expectations one by one — which is precisely what we’ll do in this session – you’ll walk away with inside intel that will enable you to create a novel that will rivet readers from the very first sentence.
RELAXATION EXERCISE w/ JULIET MARILLIER: This 15-minute exercise will help to relax and inspire you before the first part of our featured 4-hour workshop. It begins promptly at 9:45 and leads directly into the workshop. If you arrive late, please enter quietly so as not to disrupt those who are participating, or wait until the exercise is complete to enter the room.
UNBOXED STORY: 4-HOUR WORKSHOP w/ DONALD MAASS
Writing outside the box involves a range of mastery techniques—methods that lift fiction beyond even your own vision to a rare realm of transcendent meaning. What makes story enduring, characters universal, and themes life-changing? Challenge your readers—and yourself—to reach fiction’s highest levels.
We hope to see you in Salem! Write on.