The inimitable Kurt Vonnegut died while I was wrestling with my spring sickness, and, a bit belatedly, I wanted to offer my own small tribute to this American literary genius.
I love his eight premises of Creative Writing 101, in the Intro to Bagombo Snuff Box (he called those early stories
"a bunch of Buddhist catnaps.") Here they are:
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
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. 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.
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
I love the earthy concision of these bits of advice. He then says
that Flannery O'Connor was the greatest short story writer of his
generation, and she broke practically every one of his rules but the
first. "Great writers tend to do that," he wrote. RIP, Vonnegut.
The soft or shrill voice within us
7 years ago