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8 Rules of Writing from Kurt Vonnegut

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From Kurt Vonnegut's "Eight Rules of Writing."

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 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.

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My favorite is number 6. I've always been too soft on my characters, and I know it has harmed my stories. I think I've become a lot better at it, but I suppose only my readers will be able to tell me if I've improved.

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Every writer has their own definition of what "make awful things happen" means. I think they are best when the reader is surprised when they happen.

Colin :icon_geek

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My favorite is number one. I know that I become irritated when I've sat with a story for several chapters and feel as if I've struggled to get that far. And don't even get me started on an unsatisfactory ending to an otherwise great story. Our stock and trade is the enjoyment our readers get from our efforts. I know I always strived for a strawberries in cream reaction from the reader. You know, that feeling of having had a very enjoyable dessert, and the desire for more, despite how full they are.

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I think the most important rule is #3: make each of the characters want something. All of my stories have done that, and I think when you can define precisely what it is they want, ultimately it makes a better story.

Vonnegut is a very frustrating writer to read, and I think his stories are often very uneven. But I think his rules have a lot of truth to them, and they've been echoed by many good writing teachers over the years.

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  • 1 year later...

I agree entirely.. Vonnegut's primary concern is the reader.

Just like Alfred Hitchcock, his most important concern was not the story or the producers, it was the audience.

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