Kurt Vonnegut, a novelist and satirist with a penchant for dishing out memorable writing advice, gave us equally memorable and witty novels and prose in a career spanning over 50 years. If you haven’t read such classics as Cat’s Cradle, Breakfast Of Champions, and Slaughterhouse Five, you have pleasant surprises awaiting you in his work! He was a master of his craft.
In the introduction to his 1999 collection of magazine stories, Bagombo Snuff Box, stories written during the fifties and sixties for such popular venues as The Saturday Evening Post, Vonnegut put down his advice on how to write a good short story with his customary wisdom and wit. Here are Vonnegut’s 8 basics of what he called “Creative Writing 101:”
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 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.
But for every rule (well, almost every rule) there is an exception. Vonnegut goes on to praise Flannery O’Connor as the greatest writer of his generation, saying, “She broke practically every one of my rules but the first. Great writers tend to do that.”
What’s your favorite bit of this writing advice? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter.
See Also: David Ogilvy’s 10 Tips to Write Well.
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by Hugh MacLeod
Ever wonder what it really takes to make a living as a creative person in today's complicated world?
MacLeod presents some witty keys for creative success, including "ignore everybody. Why should you "ignore everybody"?
Because, he writes, nobody else can tell you whether your idea is worthwhile. People can give you advice, but at the end of the day, it's your decision. The more original an idea, the less helpful the advice is going to be.
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