Saturday, 20 November 2010

Kurt Vonnegut's 8 Rules to Writing

Read #4 first. Says it all and why Kurt Vonnegut is my favorite author. My friend Josh and I just talked about this list, props to him. Figured I’d go through and give my two cents.

1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

Make sure your story could have only been told the way you told it. Make it unique and purposeful.

2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

If every character is rotten and irredeemable, then it’s very hard for the reader to get enjoyment or knowledge out of the story. Heros feel right.

3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

Also put the character in a place to want things. A hobo might want to live in a palace, but he probably wants to cash in his lotto ticket and get a cheeseburger first.

4. Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.

There are two great lessons in writing. This, and don’t be afraid to delete your own work. But this is far more important. Movement movement movement.

5. Start as close to the end as possible.

This will help with the concept of constant action. Move the reader along as fast as Taco Bell moves bowels.

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.

He doesn’t really mean be a sadist, he means be sadistic; a sadist wouldn’t want his characters to succeed. And if you don’t want your characters to succeed, neither will your readers.

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.

This is the only one I disagree with. But he’s Kurt and I am but a lowly peon. I think he means have your audience in mind when you write, which is good. But, writing for the broadest base of people is better because it allows your story to be bigger, really big, tackling big things that everyone ponders. And it will help you in critiques.

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.

Mystery for the sake of mystery drags out a story and only exists when the author couldn’t think of actual substance to inject.

So move, move, move. And groove.

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