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Kurt Vonnegut listed these 8 "rules" for what he calls
Creative Writing 101 in his preface to Bagombo Snuff Box: *
Kurt Vonnegut's words are in black.
Commenting in red below, I am using Kurt Vonnegut 's light to see better into the process of 5 minute, personal storytelling
1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
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1. Amen, brother Kurt! Just because one can run one's mouth, does not mean one should. In a workshop, sure - meander, flounder, hem and haw. You follow in the footsteps of E.M Forster who said," How can I know what I think till I see what I say"? But in performance, think of your audience. You are there for them - not the other way around. So, what have you brought for their enjoyment and nourishment ?
2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
2. But, you say, there are no heroes in my life story. Then the hero is you. Someone has to be like able. Tag, you are it. Unless you tell solely for masochists and misanthropes.
3.Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
3. This is something to look into as you explore in the deeps of memory and pick through the background of your story. What characters want can be made clear by the actions you include in your story.
4. Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.
4.Sure - when you are really skilled at telling stories or forced by time constraints to use words with care, this is what you do.
5. Start as close to the end as possible.
5. This is great advice. Especially in the short form of story. The "set up" is a great place to cut and can always be shorter and distilled into a few choice sentences. Just because you lived through all the nonsense, doesn't mean we want to relive it with you. Start close to the end and see what you really need.
What is your take on the last three of Kurt Vonnegut's 8 ? Leave a comment or email me with your thoughts?
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.
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 the preface to Vonnegut’s short story collection Bagombo Snuff Box