Kurt Vonnegut died this week. He was one of my favorites, and, as someone who fancied himself a “creative writer” as an undergraduate at the University of Iowa where Vonnegut taught briefly way back when, there was a lot of lore about him around town, even fifteen or so years after he had packed up and left town.
Anyway, here’s an excerpt I found via boing-boing of some advice Vonnegut offered in book of previously uncollected short stories:
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.
So it goes….