Friday, April 13, 2007

Vonnegut's Eight Rules of Writing Fiction

Acclaimed author Kurt Vonnegut died this week, and is being much remembered and appreciated by numerous people at numerous blogs. [Check out James Moran's tribute to the great man for a good example.] I always think it's a shame we often wait until after somebody dies to express our appreciaton for them, but I guess that's human nature - you only miss something when it's gone. Over at Jane Espenson's excellent screenwriting blog, she's quoted an extract from Vonnegut's Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons 1999). In it the author outlined eight rules for writing fiction. Frankly, they're good guidelines for almost any kind of storytelling, although I might quibble with number 8.
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. -- Kurt Vonnegut

1 comment:

James Moran said...

These are brilliant, and so sensible. Particularly number 1, it's the cardinal rule of entertainment. And I'm a firm believer in 6.

I reckon with 8 he was partly making fun of overly complex novels, or stories that rely on twist endings. Or maybe just being practical, having read a book once where cockroaches had actually eaten the ending. None of his books follow that rule, I never know where the hell the story is going to land - in a good way...