Vonnegut’s Rules of Writing Creative Fiction.

 

Kurt Vonnegut, an original literary iconoclast
Kurt Vonnegut, an original literary iconoclast

Kurt Vonnegut – the creative genius who gave us such memorable books as Slaughterhouse 5, Cat’s Cradle, Breakfast of Champions, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, Player Piano, and Slapstick – was a man without a pure genre.

His work was funny.

Sometimes it was downright outrageous.

It was dark.

It explored the landscape of man’s mind.

It explored landscapes where man might never go or want to go.

He wrote science fiction.

He wrote literary fiction.

And Vonnegut didn’t see any difference between the two.

Got a story?

Tell it.

It can be told in the future.

It can be told in the past.

It can be told now.

It’s the story that counts, not the time period for which it was written.

Some critics said Vonnegut wrote classics.

Others labeled him as counter-culture.

His prose was warm-blooded.

It was cool.

He became the pied piper of a whole generation of readers who were known as rebels, iconoclasts, mavericks, druggies, hippies, beatniks, and flower children.

Many tried to write as he did.

They didn’t last long.

There was only one Kurt Vonnegut.

He was an American original.

In the preface of his short story collection, Begombo Snuff Box, he gave his own eight basics of creative writing.

  • Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  • Give the reader at last one character he or she can root for.
  • Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  • Every sentence must do one of two things – reveal character or advance the action.
  • Start as close to the end as possible.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Vonnegut also said the he believed the “greatest American short story writer of my generation was Flannery O’Connor. She broke practically every one of my rules but the first. Great writers tend to do that.

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  • Caleb Pirtle

    Vonnegut has boiled the art of writing down to a few short rules. Which of the rules do you break?

  • jack43

    I broke the last rule in my first novel. It plodded on for more than 100,000 words. I think I did better in the second; it’s only 30,000 words. Unfortunately, that probably means the second isn’t a novel so it’s not really “the second”, is it? Maybe I should go back and remove 70,000 words from the first and then the second really will be “the second”… Or, maybe I should just remove the first 80 words of this post and simply say, “Great post, Caleb. Thanks.”

    • Caleb Pirtle

      As I keep preaching, Jack, I’m convinced that people had rather read three 30,000 word novels than one 90,000 word novel. We live at such a hectic pace that patience has been the first virtue to disappear.

  • I love being a sadist. If I don’t torture characters to the breaking point and beyond, what’s the point?

    • Caleb Pirtle

      Two of Vonnegut’s rules in one sentence. Give readers someone to root for, then let the torture begin.

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