April 17, 2011

Vonnegut on Writing

I like Kurt Vonnegut*.  Here are his rules for writing:

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. Now 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 heck 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.

Good advice, indeed.  Especially numbers one and five.  Oh, and eight.  I'm not sure which one is my favorite.  Regardless, I need to go read, grade, and then read some more.  The usual Sunday stuff.

*Especially in the book Galapagos.  Pay close attention to his brilliant use of the underdog of the keyboard**, the asterisk.  If you haven't read this book, put down whatever critical theory book you are reading and grab it.  Well worth your time.

**Why yes, you can put a footnote within a footnote.  Why do you ask?  There are, after all, no REAL rules for writing (despite what some of my friends argue).

1 comment:

Conor said...

My favorite Vonnegut book: Cats Cradle (although I agree the Galapagos is great, too!)

My favorite Vonnegut quotes:

If I should ever die, God forbid, let this be my epitaph:




History is merely a list of surprises. ... It can only prepare us to be surprised yet again. Please write that down.