Kurt Vonnegut’s Eight Rules for Writing Fiction

I recently came across Vonnegut’s 8 Rules for Writing Fiction and thought they were worth discussing. His advice:

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. Now 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.

I originally planned to center this discussion on rule number 8, but since the discussions I host usually have narrow topics, I decided to throw this out there and let you discuss any of the rules you’d like. For example:

1. How do you keep a reader from feeling that his or her time is wasted?

2. Do you have a character readers will root for?

3. What does your main character want? What do your supporting characters want?

4. Do you make sure ever sentence reveals character or advances the action? Do you agree with this rule?

5. Do you tend to start too far from the end, frontloading your story with scenes that delay the action?

6. What awful things are you doing to your characters? Do you take every opportunity to traumatize them?

7. Who are you writing to please?

8. Do think readers should have such a complete understanding of what is going on that they could finish the story themselves? As a reader do you want it all laid out for you so that the end is inevitable?

My online writing group No Whine, Just Champagne will exchange ideas about Vonnegut’s rules during our Live Discussion on Thursday, October 30 at 9:00pm ET. Everyone is invited. Hope to see you there!

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2 Responses to “Kurt Vonnegut’s Eight Rules for Writing Fiction”

  1. Cleveland W. Gibson Says:

    I liked your article with its rules.
    I must go back through them as you have raised so many good points. Subtle things too. I’d like to include on your list offering leads early on in the story. Later may be too late. And I raise a question. Are minor characters necessary? I think they are but some people feel minor characters ought to be killed off or removed from the story. I disagree. Charles Dickens always had many minor characters , major ones too.
    But there we are.


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