Kurt Vonnegut Was My Writing Hero
Kurt Vonnegut was my writing hero. Anyone who could illustrate an a _ _ hole in a literary novel with an artfully drawn asterisk won my heart and admiration. I read every book he wrote, so I was popping at the seams when in the mid-80’s I had a chance to actually talk to him. Not an interview, not research for an article. Just a friendly chat.
Vonnegut gave a talk at Bucknell University where I was working in the Writing Center, and he wanted to see this thing called a Writing Center. His tour guide had taken a class from me, and he brought my hero to my doorstep. Vonnegut and I smoked cigarettes together (and I saved his Pall Mall butt). We talked about the way I work with writers and how helpful it is to get useful feedback.
The other day, I saw these eight pointers from Vonnegut for writing a good story in Brainpickings, and I just had to share them.
- 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 least 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 hell 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.