Monday, August 17, 2009

Vonnegut's Eight Rules of Writing Fiction

Vonnegut's Eight Rules of Writing Fiction, from Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons 1999), p. 9-10:

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. -- Kurt Vonnegut


  1. Here via a twitter post!

    Vonnegut makes some very pertinent points. #8 is particularly interesting to me - as it keeps coming up in my writing group that I don't ground my reader in the story before it embarks - meaning I often lose the reader along the way OR I lose the impact later on when I start to twist and turn the narrative.

    Awesome rules for the road. Thanks for posting.

  2. I love these - so valuable. I've actually had these tacked up to the wall right here for quite some time.

    Somehow, it helps to have it here next to the computer's monitor, where I can see it during those moments when I'm struggling with the story.

    I read somewhere - I think later on in the same piece, where Vonnegut says something about a good writer knowing that all of these rules should be broken.

    Yeah... I suppose it's his sense of humor that really helps. ;)

  3. Thank you for this post. It makes me feel like my novel has a chance!


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