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.
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?
More from Writing Lab: