November 19, 2010

Kurt Vonnegut's 8 Rules of Writing

I was listening to All Things Considered  on NPR last week.  Mark Vonnegut, son of Kurt Vonnegut, was the guest.  He gave
an intimate glimpse of what it was like to grow up with a used car salesman turned iconic author. [He also gave] his account of coping with mental illness and finding his calling as a pediatrician.
At the end of the interview, the host, Robert Siegel, read Kurt Vonnegut's 8 rules of Writing - first published in Vonnegut's Bamboo Snuff:  Uncollected Short Fiction (1999).  I thought I would share them here because I think Vonnegut was brilliant.  Sometimes we writers lose sight of this simplicity.
  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.
Thank you Mr. Vonnegut.