Tag Archive 'Writer Unboxed'

All Hail Dilemmas: Why Your Characters Need to Make Tough Choices

Last month I began a series on story lessons learned or refined during my multi-day Story seminar with Robert McKee. (It was fantastic. If you get a chance to attend, I highly recommend it.) The first post was about cultivating the gap between reality and expectation, or Turning Points. This month, I wanted to talk about the necessity of giving characters agency, or setting them up to make active, well-structured choices in fiction. (Even if their ultimate choice is not [...]

Cultivate the Gap and Watch Your Readers’ Eyebrows Bounce

When my youngest was a wee lad, there was a period when I knew I was failing him as a parent. Day after day, from the moment I woke him up to take him to the sitter’s until I tucked him into bed (for the last time), we were locked in one power struggle after another.

I wanted him to have a playful, imaginative childhood, yet the word I uttered with the most frequency was no.

Worse, while I retained the upper [...]

Sir Hugh and the Snail

When Mollusks Attack

We don’t know why images of armed knights fighting snails are common in 13th and 14th century illuminated manuscripts. 

Through a tweet from one of my favorite authors, William Gibson, I found my way to a post by Sarah J. Biggs at the British Library. “One of our post-medieval colleagues noticed a painting of a knight engaging in combat with a snail.”

Knight v Snail V: Revenge of the Snail (from the Smithfield Decretals, southern France (probably Toulouse), with [...]

To the Disconsolate Writer Who Hates Her Pace

Moai Rano, Easter Island from Wikimedia Commons

From an anonymous email:

Dear Jan: I’ve seen you describe yourself as a slow writer. I am one also, and it makes me discouraged to the point I’ve considered quitting. Do you have any advice?

Ah, yes. Speed-of-sloth is the precise phrase I use, and while at one point it was a way of laughing through my pain and frustration, now I type it with a sense of peace. It’s simply become a way to [...]

Scale: That All the Books Should Be Counted


Caesar Augustus: All Is Forgiven

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.
Luke 2:1, King James Version, New Testament

That glow on the faces of so many of us Protestant ministers’ children this time of year is a reconnection. Like sticking our fingers into the science-project sockets of our childhoods, we sit around tempting mythology to fry us again, gazing at this verse and [...]

Be Bigger Than Chickens: an Interview with Joshilyn Jackson

I fell in love with William Ashe at gunpoint, in a Circle K. It was on a Friday afternoon at the tail end of a Georgia summer so ungodly hot the air felt like it had all been boiled red. We were both staring down the barrel of an ancient, creaky .32 that could kill us just as dead as a really nice gun could.

The opening lines of Someone Else’s Love Story belong to Shandi Pierce, a young, virgin mother [...]

Leveling Up: In Praise of Writer Dads

Image: iStockphoto – FunSand


According to my kids I’m “funny a lot” and make them laugh. I’m a goofball. My wife says I’m excited because I have my perfect audience right now. I’m yucking it up for all I can get, because I know that shit’ll evaporate come twelve or thirteen. Hopefully by then they’ll like video games, or books, and we can continue bonding there.

Tobias Buckell

New York Times bestseller Tobias Buckell is a Hugo-, Nebula-, Prometheus-, and John [...]

“The Inflexible Routines”

iStockphoto: 33ft


I was withdrawing deeper into myself, isolating myself from my surroundings, settling into the routines—the inflexible routines—I have before each match and that continue right up to the start of play.

This is from Rafael Nadal’s sometimes surprisingly candid book, Rafa, written with John Carlin. Listen for that light, self-effacing Majorcan accent, our Mediterranean catch of the day, emphasis mine:

I repeat the sequence, every time, before a match begins, and at every break between games, until a match is over. A sip from one [...]

A Writerly Pilot Light

photo by ul_Marga

I don’t know why it always surprises me. I’ve been here before. And I was warned before my first time. Those ahead of me on their writerly journeys said it again and again: “The waiting is hell.” And yet I find I have to relearn it. Every time.



As fiction writers, at some point we all go through it. And in some way, shape, or form, the fate of our work hangs in the balance. Whether it’s being [...]

Are You Lonesome Tonight? The Dreaded Solitude of Writing

Evening off Skiathos – Porter Anderson


Provocations graphic by Liam Walsh

It’s right there on the Beeb:

This week Robert [McCrum] contemplates the loneliness of writers, and the things they give up to spend hours in their rooms with only their novel for company.

Ah, yes, the fabled “loneliness of writers.”

Where the pleasures of solitude are sometimes indistinguishable from the perils of isolation.

It’s thanks to one of my favorite colleagues, Sheila Bounford in the UK, that I’ve found this BBC Radio 4 [...]

I Know Nothing of Your Work


An artist is one who does not live on the timeline that connects the events that take place around us.

That’s Brian O’Leary. Know him?

Rather, the artist sees the actors, events, and collisions all at once, from a vantage point that few others share.

Brian O’Leary

O’Leary is one of the most committed thinkers we have working in publishing today. A consultant to industry players and organizations, he’s a former Time production director; an adjunct professor in NYU’s publishing [...]

We’d Love Your Input on the Inboxed

Will you help us serve you better? We’re hoping you’ll donate 2-5 minutes of your time to provide confidential feedback  on Writer Inboxed, WU’s bimonthly newsletter. (Contains tips on the craft and business of writing, as well as interviews with premier authors.)

Not familiar with Writer Inboxed? That’s okay. We’d still like your input. Have a look at our March 2013 edition, featuring special guests Alice Hoffman and Jane Porter. Then proceed below the divider to answer questions 5 & 6. [...]