Sunday, January 31, 2010

Vonnegut's Eight Rules



 On Writing...

In his book Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction, Vonnegut listed eight rules for writing a short story (in my opinion, ANY length story):
  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.
Vonnegut qualifies the list by adding that Flannery O'Connor broke all these rules except the first, and that great writers tend to do that.

9 comments:

Irish Gumbo said...

I likes me some Vonnegut, too. Truly a great writer, who inspired me to want to write...I hope some day, that I can break the rules also :)

Icy @ Individual Chic said...

I'm not a big short story fan, but these are great rules for most writing. Thanks.

Lola Sharp said...

Icy, nor am I. I dont write them, and rarely read them (except by the greats).
BUT, these tips (to me) are universal story writing tips.

a cat of impossible colour said...

This is such good advice - for all writing, really. I couldn't agree more with the first point - I always say that you have to be considerate of your reader, because you're basically asking a complete stranger to spend a long time with you ... sometimes hours, sometimes days or weeks or even months, depending on how quickly they read! Needs far more time investment than a movie or TV programme.

Thanks for your lovely comments - I always look forward to them!

Terresa said...

I enjoyed reading this list, Vonnegut is a delight. I especially like the pneumonia and roaches bit.

I tweeted your Pratchett quote up top just now. He's fun, too (I'm currently reading his, "The Wee free men").

I'll be back to your blog to visit; it's lovely.

Delightfully Tacky said...

Perfect.

ALEXANDRA said...

Great pointers, I specially like the one about all characters wanting something. I'm going to be really rude and steal this list for my blog, m'kay?

Great blog!

Lola Sharp said...

Thanks Alexandra...and of course you can use it, they're Kurt's (awesome) words, he shared them with all of us.

Not rude of you at all.

~L

Lindsay said...

i love short stories. esp since joining writing groups, because it is a form a lot of the participants use. i read them often in the new yorker and narrativemagazine.com-- you should check it out. they also have an upcoming short story contest, lola. & thanks so much for sharing this!!

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My name is Lola. (I'm not a showgirl) Yes, L-O-L-A Lola. It's the least of my worries. Let's move on, shall we? This blog is mostly about my misadventures on the journey to publication and beyond. My passion for lush prose, quirky characters, art, music, literature, performing arts and anything creative will be a major theme here. This journey of mine will not always be pretty. Much like rubbernecking a train wreck, I know sometimes you just can't help but look at the carnage that is often my life. So strap on your neck brace, helmet and 5-point harness and come along for the ride! Licentia poetica.
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