Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 Rules for Writing a Short Story
Six years ago today, celebrated author and humanist Kurt Vonnegut Jr. fell down a flight of stairs and died. He was 84 at the time. Being a fellow Hoosier, it was my duty to read his complete works and I must admit that I did not always get what he was getting after, but I always appreciated the way he went about it. His writing was purposeful and intense, full of winks and nudges and rib pokes, but at the same time with a weight and depth that challenged even the most critical of noodlers.
So, in honor of the sixth anniversary of his passing, I present Vonnegut’s 8 Rules for Writing a Short Story:
- 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.