Writing Tips: Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 Essentials for a Good Short Story.


With “deep-bone sadness” that often turned into dark-tongue humor, one of the most unique and unforgettable voices of XXth century American literature, Mr. Vonnegut, serves you the eight, most essential rules to writing a short story.

How this applies to you even if you’re not (technically) a short story writer.

Because see… in the end, you are. Whatever you’re writing—whether it is poetry, a longer piece of fiction, or even non-fiction, you’re always telling a story.

In fact, it goes even deeper—if you’ll allow me some Vonnegut-inflated, garage philosophy: we live in stories and we can’t understand life outside the story concept.

Our entire memory, our concept of the world is but a big storyboard.

Everything we’ve ever known is a story, within another story—and even the deepest, most literal and scientific truth has a fictional side that confirms its exception, if only, in the telling and understanding of it.

As such, the better you understand our human Art of Storytelling—both in writing and on that bigger scale of things called “life”—the richer your short experience on Earth will be.

Enters Vonnegut. 


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 or 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 character, 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 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.


I have a high respect for inventors of fictional religions. I interview them in my sleep.



Another way to recycle pain.



Wait, one more thing: Cough, Cough?

(Repetition is your mother’s mother.)




More from Writing Lab: 

Jack Kerouac’s 30 keys to life & writing.

11 Tips & Tricks for Troubled Writers.



{In case of word-hunger, bite Rebelle Society on Facebook & Twitter.}



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Andrea Balt
Co-Founder/Editor-in-Chief of Rebelle Society, Wellness Alchemist at Rebelle Wellness & Professional Dream Chaser at Creative Rehab. Unfinished book with a love for greens, bikes and poetry; raised by wolves & adopted by people; not trying to make art but to Be Art. Holds a BA in Journalism & Mass Communication, an MFA in Creative Writing & a Holistic Health Coach degree from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition®. In her work she tries to reflect the wholeness of the human experience by combining Art & Health + Mind & Body + Darkness & Brilliance into a more alive, unabridged and unlimited edition of ourselves. She is also on a quest to reinstate Creativity as one of our essential Human Rights to (hopefully and soon) be included in the UN Declaration. Connect with her in the Social Media Jungle via Facebook, Twitter & Instagram and sign up for her FREE MuseLetter.


  • learningcurvesblogB commented on September 12, 2012 Reply
    Thanks you for this and for the Writing Lab. I am a master of procrastination…with a story always emerging inside my head but busying myself too much to actually put it down in writing {but mostly due to fear, of course}. As selfish as it sounds, it’s comforting to know I am not alone…
    • Andrea Balt
      Andrea Balt commented on September 14, 2012 Reply
      Well, it’s a lonely profession. We have issues. And need good company to get through them (if only, around other crazies). You’re not alone in your “selfishness” of not wanting to be alone. :)
    • whoneedsflowers.blogspot.com commented on September 27, 2012 Reply
      I frequently wish for a tape reorder (do they still make these things — maybe it’s now an app?) in my head because my best thinking is done with a toothbrush in my mouth and by the time I’ve dropped it so is the thught. Which was brilliant you know.
  • Corte Jezek commented on September 14, 2012 Reply
    ummm, in the ” #2 ” thing to do, ‘The’ is spelled ‘hte’ sorry to be that guy… @ Hotspurwriting twitter
    • Andrea Balt
      Andrea Balt commented on September 14, 2012 Reply
      Oh! No worries. I like “that guy,” we need more typo-friendly friends. :) Thanks! Just fixed.
  • Braja Sorensen
    Braja Sorensen commented on September 16, 2012 Reply
    Love love love it….used Kurt’s 8 steps in writing Lost & Found in India…well, since it’s not published til November, let’s see how well that worked…!! I also love Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Essays in the Art of Writing,” so much in there… “And perhaps there is no subject on which a man should speak so gravely as that industry, whatever it may be, which is the occupation or delight of his life; which is his tool to earn or serve with; and which, if it be unworthy, stamps himself as a mere incubus of dumb and greedy bowels on the shoulders of labouring humanity.  On that subject alone even to force the note might lean to virtue’s side.”
    • Andrea Balt
      Andrea Balt commented on September 19, 2012 Reply
      Really looking forward to your book. I’ll check Stevenson for a next post. “…perhaps there is no subject on which a man should speak so gravely as that industry, whatever it may be, which is the occupation or delight of his life; which is his tool to earn or serve with;” ~ Amen or what?
  • Michael Beck commented on December 11, 2012 Reply
    As the lovely wise Mrs. Parker once said,“If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.” I’m not sure though, E.B’s little book has such grave implications.
  • Fran commented on June 21, 2013 Reply
    This life is short but the behind the invisable curtain is forever. My earth suit will die but the real me will live forever!!!!

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