Kurt Vonnegut’s Tips on How to Write a Short Story

While surfing on the interwebs, I came across a great article on The Atlantic about Kurt Vonnegut’s tips on how to write a short story. I found this information useful and hope you can too.

How to write a short story

Vonnegut’s 8 tips include:

  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.

The shapes of stories

I also found this short lecture about the simple shapes of stories. Take a listen.

Vonnegut’s presentation is spiced with humor, but take a moment to really think about what he’s saying. In fact, why not conduct an experiment? Try examining any of your favorite stories. Just think about the plot from beginning to end.

You can even make a list and might be surprised by what you find. There are exceptions, but in most cases the books on your shelf probably fit into one of the timeless patterns of storytelling.

Also, see my post on Andrew Stanton’s Clues to a Great Story.

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