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Benjamin Obler

Fiction writers sometimes employ pernicious secrecy in the telling of their stories

Gretel and Hansel laid their own trail. How’d that go for them?

A common pitfall for the beginning fiction writer is The Breadcrumb Effect. This is where the author conceives of a plot — a murder, a jealous lover, a stilted artist — and goes about relating things in such a way as if daring his reader to surmise what exactly is happening.

What is the nature of the lover’s jealousy? What has made the artist stilted? Readers can’t say.

Usually murders are sufficiently transparent (barring Whodunnits), but not always. In workshops, I’ve been in a student’s narrative rowboat crossing an inlet under moonlight, unaware (because I was not told) that the…

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It's been a long time since I've come back to an article a second time to read it just for the pleasure. This one slays. Nice job.

Part of the Spring 2021 collection

Ennui in cloth form, shapeless like your life. The Pandemic Pant. [Copyright © 2021 Aspiring Writer Syndrome.]

The Pandemic Pant returns to the spring lineup. Back by loathed demand, and sponsored by Doritos, this classic is literally timeless. As in, all recollections of sanity and personal grooming will be sucked into the void of something called a “distant past.”

Available in Melancholy Gray, Cobweb Light Gray, and an all-new tone, December Sky Medium Gray, these pants bring new meaning to the word comfort. That meaning is hideous, but it is undeniably new and undeniably a meaning, and that’s the bargain these lightweight polyester/cotton sweats strike with your lower half.

Do you…

A plan for compartmentalizing your creative writing tasks and responsibilities

Something complex, multifaceted, and beautiful — like you. Photo by Valentin Lacoste on Unsplash.

I want to introduce you to something I call “The Editorial Department Schema.” It’s a way to think about your fiction writing, or other creative writing work.

What’s a schema? Let’s have a look.

In a future where Willful Elimination is legal and encouraged for the survival of the species. A fiction excerpt.

Photo by Tom Claes on Unsplash.

Hello, readers, writers and followers. Since the start of 2021, the AWS crew and I have been putting out various how-to’s for fiction writers, looking at technical craft elements, inspirational ideas, and gray-area stuff like closeness in point-of-view. This week: something different! It’s time to walk the walk and (hopefully) show some of these skills in action. So without any ado at all, here’s an excerpt from a fiction-in-progress, titled The Killing Place. It’s told from the point of view of Bernell Jackson, an employee at a franchise of the future where customers can seek Willful Elimination.

* * *

I don’t know…

Can we transact between creative and financial accounts?

A nebula, monetized. Photo by NASA on Unsplash.

On June 6, 2014, I heard something uncommon: a novelist interviewed on a Wall Street report radio program. The novelist was Mona Simpson. Forgetting the supernatural suavity of host Kai Ryssdal’s voice, let us look at these wise words from his “Marketplace” guest that day. This is my transcript of the end segment titled (with classic Ryssdalian aplomb) “Here’s the Thing.”

For best results, please put your feet up when reading.

Ryssdal: Here’s the thing about numbers—economic numbers, anyway: You gotta put ‘em in context. In context in the economy, of course…

Express Yourself

A fiction lesson in a one-act play

Person in water mid-motion from rear view of their neck.
Person in water mid-motion from rear view of their neck.
Photo: VV Nincic/Flickr

SETTING: A dark, bare stage. Beaten wood floors, well-trod. Two chairs are set out at oblique angles to one another.

YOUR CHARACTER: Can we talk?

YOU: Sure. What’s up?

YOUR CHARACTER: I feel like we’re growing apart. Like we don’t know each other anymore.

YOU: Oh. (scratches chin) Okay.

YOUR CHARACTER: Don’t get defensive.

YOU: No, I’m not —

YOUR CHARACTER: Don’t make excuses either.

YOU: I —

YOUR CHARACTER: Just hear me out.

YOU: Okay, okay! You got it. What’s this about? What can I do?

YOUR CHARACTER: Thank you. This means a lot to me. Because this is…

On numbers in fictional prose

The mayor, spotted at the opera. Photo by on Unsplash.

Be specific is solid advice to give to a fiction writer. I don’t feel very connected to a character who lives in “the city.” Not as much as I do when they live in Chicago or Astoria, Queens. And how marvelous when a surgeon drives a green Aston Martin DB4 to the hospital at dawn instead of “his English car.”

The flip side to the specificity coin is that mathematical specificity has little place in narrative prose. Though many people anchor their lives around the wondrous reliability of measurable distances, times, and temperatures, these people are the last ones you’d…

The enduring value of the diary/notebook/journal

Photo by Kyoshi Reyes on Unsplash

Ever had a friend who’s an illustrator? Illustrators, cartoonists, and other visual artists almost always carry a sketchbook. They can sit down in a park, a café, on a bus, just about anywhere, and draw what they see. Or draw something from their imagination. It might be a figure, a character in certain garb. It might be just an interesting face. Or the outline of a building, a tree, a street lamp — a simple scene. Whatever it is, the sketch is not complete, it’s not perfect. It’s just a sketch. It’s not finalized, colored in and transferred to a…

A good narrative generously orients readers to a character’s life

The selfless guide takes the least comfortable position, and wears the least protection. Photo by Chastagner Thierry on Unsplash

Show context again and again throughout a story. Repeat the broad context that surrounds your protagonist’s goal and struggle. When you zoom in, you must zoom out again. There are many analogies; one is that of the tour guide.

A writer is simply a tour guide to the terrain of a character’s life, in particular the wing of the museum where the goal and conflicts are housed.

Think about how a good tour guide acts. The guide knows the territory, the terrain, and can traverse it unimpeded without much attention to her course. Without even thinking about it, without even…

Benjamin Obler

Instructor at @GothamWriters, NYC. Ed.-in-Chief of, where fiction is the focus and inspiration is the goal. #Javascotia @PenguinBooks

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