Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 Tenets of Storytelling
By Maria Popova
The year of reading more and writing better is well underway with writing advice the likes of David Ogilvy’s 10 no-bullshit tips, Henry Miller’s 11 commandments, Jack Kerouac’s 30 beliefs and techniques, John Steinbeck’s 6 pointers, and various invaluable insight from other great writers.
Now comes Kurt Vonnegut (November 11, 1922–April 11, 2007) — anarchist, Second Life dweller, imaginary interviewer of the dead, sad soul — with eight tips on how to write a good short story, narrated by the author himself.
- Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
- Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
- Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
- Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.
- Start as close to the end as possible.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Complement with Vonnegut on the shapes of stories, the secret of happiness, his daily routine, and his life-advice to his children, then dive into this evolving omnibus of famous writers’ collected advice on the craft.
Published April 3, 2012