Kurt Vonnegut’s Eight Rules For Writing A Good Short Story

  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. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them — in order that the reader may see what they’re 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.

Often times us writers get so wrapped up in an idea or concept that we tend to lose sight of the basics. Should we blindly follow Kurt’s advice? No. But we’d be fools to discount it completely. Any writing advice should always be taken in and digested. We should learn how, or if, it can help our writing. The trick is being confident enough, and open to understanding who we are as writers. What are our strengths/weaknesses? What kind of impact will this advice have on our writing, and writing process?

As I prepare to transition back to writing novels, I wanted to remind myself of the basics and figured I’d share. Focusing on short stories has helped me understand the sense of immediacy the beginning of a book should have. The faster we can draw readers in, the more likely they’ll stick around till the end. I’ve been reminding myself of these rules over and over. I believe they’re a great blueprint and give valid insight into what it takes to be a successful writer. Hopefully some of you feel the same way.

Happy writing!


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