Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Kurt Vonnegut on writing

I love reading writers' thoughts on writing. In his book, Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short FictionKurt Vonnegut lists eight rules for a short story. How lovely and wise, especially his later offhand comment that great writers break rules.
  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.
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1 comment:

  1. I love reading them when the writer is as great as Vonnegut, and these are the best. I should tape them to the wall just above my monitor. They're all perfect, but just now I'm noticing in particular "start as close to the end as possible" and "write to please just one person." Many fiction writers make the mistake of withholding information with the idea of being subtle or maintaining suspense. (Can you tell I like Vonnegut? One of my favorite stylists.)


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