Friday, 10 July 2009

Rules from Kurt


Kurt Vonnegut once published a list of rules for writing fiction. This is what he said: Which ones chime with you? Me it's 2 and 3 and I'm going to have to think more 4.

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.

He also said, ‘The greatest American short story writer of my generation was Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964). She broke practically every one of my rules but the first. Great writers tend to do that.'

From Andrew O'Hagan's interview of M.J.Hyland at the Manchester Review.

Do you think they're all bogus or only partly bogus?

4 comments:

Liz said...

Brillaint! : )

Glynis said...

I have just completed number 6 :)
Interesting rules.

Writing For My Life said...

Some great advice here, Emerging Writer. It all seems so simple when put this way, and I especially like number 4. I could see how that alone could improve my writing immeasurably.
Thanks for this post!

Michael Farry said...

Rules for writing fiction (or indeed poetry) are usually written by writers who were not aware of these "rules" when they wrote their best work and are only trying to make sense of their success afterwards. Having said that these kind of lists are very useful if they make a writer think about his/her writing more. I like No. 3 best but I think it's the reference to the glass of water which caught my attention.