Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Kurt Vonnegut's Eight Rules of Writing Fiction

I discovered these yesterday, through a random tweet from someone I don't know. Vonnegut was one of the greatest writers of the last half decade. Although I haven't read them all yet, I own at least one copy of every one of his novels. Breakfast of Champions is so far my favorite, though a few of his short stories are in close competition. So I was pretty jazzed when I found these, Kurt's Eight Rules for Writing Fiction.

  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 have to admit that some of these are fairly counter-intuitive for me. And some I don't really understand. Number five falls into that category. Is that telling you to establish a short, shallow story arc? I can't imagine that. It does seem to pair with number eight. If you're giving your readers as much information as possible up front, your essentially rolling out the ending before you get there. Which seems counter-intuitive. To heck with suspense? I always thought suspense was one of the main avenues for tension development. I suppose it aligns with what I've read of Vonnegut. Character studies to the core. His writing is all about the internal life of his characters. The story arc exists primarily as a substrate for Vonnegut to flesh out his players. Numbers two, three, four and six all support this view of writing. I guess there's no harm in giving up the map when it's the mapmakers you're concerned with.

Or is this some sort of devious misdirection?

I need more time to think about this. I'd really like to find an online discussion and read how other people interpret these maxims, especially other professional writers. I might share more when I find it.

No comments:

Post a Comment