Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Vonnegut on Writing and Thanks

In his book Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. listed eight rules for writing a short story:
  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. 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 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.
Now, obviously, these can also be applied to writing a novel, not just a short story.

The rule I that caught my attention is 4. Evert sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.

I think this is true, to an extent. If every single sentence revealed character or advanced the action, there would be very little scene setting in your story/novel.

I had the pleasure of being in Adventures in Children's Publishing's First Five Pages Workshop. Between that and the Show Me the Voice Workshop, I have received so much wonderful advice on the beginning of my story. Thank you all so much for your help! I don't plan on stopping there. I am doing to pour of the rest of that MS to true to infuse as much voice, character, and setting into the rest of the story as I did working on the opening.

I'll make sure that my sentences reveal character and advance the action. I'll also incorporate setting, too.

What do you think of Vonnegut's rules? Personally I disagree with #8 completely.


Kelly M. Olsen said...

I don't know, Nicole. I can't say I agree with most of Vonnegut's rules. When I write, I always keep all of my readers in mind. I know we can't please everybody with our writing, but we can sure aim to please more than one person. And I agree with you on #8...I LOVE suspense. If the writing is good, a reader doesn't necessarily have to be uber-intelligent to fill in the blanks without having to have TMI given to them; people can read between the lines, which is what makes writing more subjective than objective. Just my two cents.

Cherie Reich said...

I agree with a few of his rules, particularly 1, 2, 3, 5 (for short stories and flash fiction), and 6. I most definitely disagree with 8. Info drop is annoying. I can see 4 working well for flash fiction and perhaps short stories but not novels. As for 7, if you only please one person (most likely yourself) that might be fine, but most people like others to enjoy their story too.

The Golden Eagle said...

I definitely agree with 1, 3, 4, and 6. As for 7, I wouldn't say that you have to focus your book on just one person--since many people can like a single work--but I would agree that you shouldn't try to make it appeal to too many people at the same time. I disagree with 8. Too much information can clog up the flow of the writing and I love suspense.

Jennifer Hoffine said...

Love Vonnegut, esp his rule number 7.

And I do think there's room for setting in rule number four...what the POV character notices about the setting can reveal character. Also, the parts of the setting that are important to furthering the plot have to be described.

Jennifer Hoffine said...

Oh, and I think he's being completely factitious with number 8...it's a Vonnegut thing.

Sheila Deeth said...

Not sure about those cockroaches, but I do like the list. Thanks.

Carol Riggs said...

Yeah, ignore that #8. Give the readers a twisty little surprise and knock their sockies off! That's so cool the ACP critiques helped you!--they were so long, I didn't have enough time and energy to contribute.

Hey, your blogpage loads so much faster these days! Rah!