Friday, April 13, 2007

Rules

There are other bloggers mourning the passage of author Kurt Vonnegut. I'm one of them. He was brilliant.

One of them posted this, Vonnegut's 8 rules for writing. It is too good not to share:

Eight Rules of Writing Fiction
from Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons 1999), p. 9-10, by Kurt Vonnegut

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.

I'm not sure I completely agree with number eight, though there is something to be said about giving the readers the illusion that they know what is going on. Then again, there is something satisfying about reaching an ending and learning that I was right about the direction of the story all along, unless it is one of those stories where I'm rolling my eyes every few pages. So I guess I'll leave that one up to trial and error. I honestly don't know if readers can see my endings coming. I haven't written enough endings or had those I've written read by enough readers. So I'll withhold judgment for now. But the other rules are brilliant. I want to apply them all immediately.

1 comment:

Carole said...

Once again, I feel partly responsible for an artist's demise. It all began with Elvis, then later moved to Burl Ives. I hadn't thought of it in years, thinking that it was just strange coincidences, that's all. Nothing more.

But. . . I've had those exact eight rules of writing fiction printed out with Mr. Vonnegut's name boldly emblazened at the top sitting on my desk for the past three weeks. Seriously. Ask Steve. I printed it out of the blue. I've never even read a single one of his books but for whatever reason, I chose to print out his thoughts on writing.

Now he's gone. Just like Burl Ives. Just like Elvis. Same coincidence, same fate.

I'm sure there is a story there somewhere, one that's probably been overly done countless times, but I'm not writing it. That hits too close to home for me.