Kurt Vonnegut: Creative Writing 101

Kurt Vonnegut: Creative Writing 101

 

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“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.

 

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Agents. Qualified literary gatekeepers?

agent

A few years ago, Samuel Moffie submitted The Perfect Martini to 100 literary agents. Actually, he submitted 90% of the first twenty pages of Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions disguised as The Perfect Martini. Any guesses on his success rate? 100 out of 100, right? No. Only one agent responded positively, but that’s because the agent recognized the original author. 99 agents declined. Just to be clear, yes, the critically acclaimed, award-winning, nationally revered Kurt Vonnegut. Rejected.

Agents are concerned with commercial viability, that’s first and foremost. Period. Literary quality is a secondary bonus, if present. Now, if Vonnegut wrote a novel where a dominant vampire becomes master to a naive, submissive, shape-shifting werewolf, I’m sure he would have fared better.

Here’s the point. Why spend months, or even years, writing and submitting queries to agents who are clearly looking the other way? If they passed on Kurt Vonnegut, what chance do you have?

Agent, defined: 1. a person who acts on behalf of another, in particular. Do agents really represent authors (unknown or established) or do they represent their own financial interests and those of Big Publishers? In terms of quality, perhaps the guards are sleeping at the gates. 2. a person or thing that takes an active role or produces a specified effect. Be that person, be your own agent of change. You, not someone else. You, the person that isn’t so concerned with profit. You, the person that cares about the future of literature, not the 15% commission.

During the course of one year, I queried over 300 agents, followed all their silly and varied submission requirements, I know, no attachments, got it, waited to hear back for weeks sometimes, other times, didn’t hear back at all, even with partial or full manuscript requests, read all their canned responses, I’m not taking on new authors at this time, the work doesn’t fit with my list. Blah, blah, blah.

Query tip: don’t send any more. Take your work straight to the reader.

Within one month, I built a platform, designed my cover, formatted my ebook, published, promoted, marketed, and advertised.

Made sales.

Your turn.