Kurt Vonnegut: Eight Rules for Writing Fiction

Kurt Vonnegut’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.

Vonnegut, Kurt Vonnegut, Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons 1999), 9-10.http://www.americanstate.org/vonnegut.html

2 Comments

  1. I like these – at least I like numbers 3 & 7 especially but I can’t agree with 8. Having just read ‘Slaughter-House Five’ I think he would benefit from putting in some suspense. It’s very well written and has some great observations but I just had no urge to pick up the book between one chapter and the next.The thing that always gets me about great writers’ tips is they’re usually so well written you’re compelled to believe them. Truth is, the rules are different for every writer and different again for every story you write. But that doesn’t sound half as pithy.

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