Kurt Vonnegut's Eight Rules for Writing a Short Story

Thought this would go nicely with Kathryn's post on the current short fiction competition over at The Texas Observer: 

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.

From his book Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction.

Comments

This is all fantastic advice. Works well for the novelist, too!
Jeanna Thornton said…
Mylene, I like the rule that gives permission not to write to the whole world...maybe there is hope for me! :)
Anonymous said…
Just a note to let you know about a book blog I’ve started with a different twist: “Writing Kurt Vonnegut.” Every Saturday, I post another excerpt from my notebook as Vonnegut’s biographer— profiles of the people I met, the difficulties encountered, and the surprises, such as finding 1,500 letters he thought he had lost forever. It’s a blog written in episodes about being a literary detective.

“Writing Kurt Vonnegut” is only three weeks old but has already been linked to from GalleyCat, 3 Quarks Daily, the Book Bench, the Rumpus, Identity Theory, Maud Newton, and Litopia. It’s receiving several hundred hits a day.

Perhaps you’d like to give it a look at http://www.writingkurtvonnegut.com

All the best,

Charles J. Shields
And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut, A Life (Holt, November 2011)

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