Kurt Vonnegut’s Writing Advice

Kurt Vonnegut, born 1922 in Indianapolis, Indiana, wrote fourteen novels, five plays, five works of non-fiction, and several collections of short stories. He attended Cornell University but dropped out to serve in the Army in WW2. He was captured by Germans and interned at Dresden after the Battle of the Bulge. When the Allies bombed Dresden, he took shelter in a slaughterhouse and managed to survive. His greatest work was an anti-war novel, “Slaughterhouse Five”, published in 1969.

Here are tips he gives at the beginning of his short story collection “Bagombo Snuff Box”:

  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way he or she will feel is has not been 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 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 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.

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