Thursday, 19 January 2012

Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 Rules For Writing A Short Story

Back in 1989, I had the pleasure of attending one of Mr. Vonnegut's lectures. It's been more than twenty years now so I don't remember the whole lecture. But I do remember where I was, where I was sitting, and the feeling Mr. Vonnegut gave me as I listened to him pour out his innermost thoughts and secrets. He talked about his life, his work and what inspired him. I learned the truth behind Slaughterhouse Five and why he chose to write Breakfast of Champions. It was an incredible experience that would have been made even more incredible had I the chance to actually speak with him.

Sadly, he passed away in 2007, at the peak of his 85th year. Gone in the physical form he may be, but he left a lasting legacy behind him. Not just with his Humanistic involvements, but mainly with his writings and his advice to would be writers.

To that end, one of his most famous pieces of advice comes from his book, Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction, in which Mr. Vonnegut listed eight rules for writing a short story. I believe they work for most fiction writing. I thought I'd share them here.
  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.