I’ve recently become a fan of reading collections of letters (a form which is disappearing, now that we don’t write letters much anymore), and I read a recommendation somewhere to read Kurt Vonnegut’s letters.
From there, I was drawn to a collection of his short fiction, paradoxically named: Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction.
In the Introduction, Vonnegut provides his rules for “Creative Writing 101“:
- 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.
However, Vonnegut notes, “The greatest American short story writer of my generation was Flannery O’Connor…She broke practically every one of my rules but the first. Great writers tend to do that.”
I’m a Flannery O’Connor freak, so I was very happy to see that Vonnegut loved her work, too. In fact, in a weird synchronicity, it was my admiration for O’Connor’s collection of letters, The Habit of Being, that got me reading letters in the first place.
What do you think of these rules?