Kurt Vonnegut: Creative Writing 101

Kurt Vonnegut: Creative Writing 101




“Kurt Vonnegut created some of the most outrageously memorable novels of our time, such as Cat’s Cradle, Breakfast Of Champions, and Slaughterhouse Five. His work is a mesh of contradictions: both science fiction and literary, dark and funny, classic and counter-culture, warm-blooded and very cool. And it’s all completely unique.”

With his customary wisdom and wit, Vonnegut put forth 8 basics of what he calls Creative Writing 101:

  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. 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 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.



24 thoughts on “Kurt Vonnegut: Creative Writing 101

  1. Love # 3; I think # 8 should be used carefully. “As soon as possible”, I think, can also be interpreted as “as soon as the reader needs it”. That doesn’t mean advocating info dumps. I think it just means thinking about each and every scene and asking whether the information in that scene is necessary at that time. Tweeting this right now! Thanks, Brian!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree, #8 is the one I wasn’t sure about. “To heck with suspense?” Not sure what he meant by that. Info dumps are to be avoided, surely. So I think you’re right about interpreting this as giving the right info at the right time, and not holding back unnecessarily to the point of making things too obscure; and not suddenly springing a shock twist that the reader couldn’t possibly have predicted and which seemed basically to have come out of nowhere, and therefore leaves the reader feeling dissatisfied.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. These are really useful tips, especially number 6. I’ve found that being (almost unnecessarily, at least as your readers are concerned) horrible to your characters definitely helps readers engage. It certainly helps me engage when I’m reading.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Kurt Vonnegut: Creative Writing 101 | peseh

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