Sunday, August 30, 2015

Kurt Vonnegut's 8 Tips for Writing a Good Story

"Now lend me your ears! This is how to write a good short story."

This is how Kurt Vonnegut begins his tips for writing short stories that readers will actually finish.

Kurt Vonnegut wrote the classic science fiction stories Cat's Cradle and Slaughterhouse 5 (click on the links to listen to each) and was never afraid of speaking his mind. He once called semicolons “transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing."

Vonnegut's eight tips for a good story are:
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.
Think of an essay as a story, a story that you want your audience to WANT to finish. How could you rewrite one of these tips so that it applies to college essays? 

4 comments:

  1. Kurt Vonnegut gives 8 tips for people to be able to write a good short story. As a famous writer, giving these tips, I am sure that if one is capable of understanding him, one could be successful with his tips writing short stories, because he knows the way to go, but we don't . Perhaps my English is not the best, but if he could give examples after every single tip, the reader would have a more clear idea of each of his tips. Or maybe one just need to improve their English Level to be able to count without apples! (to write without examples)

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  2. I have some responds to the 8 tips:
    1. I think it is the basic requirement for a good story--get the reader sticked with the story. A story is not a story unless somebody has finished reading it.
    2. This one sounds like it is for a novel or long stories with many character, because it is not easy to get a root for everybody with few characters. But once a reader roots for a character, he or she is already hooked by the story and cannot wait for finishing reading.
    3. It introduce a way to make a character more like a real human. Every person in real life wants something. We want to survive; we want to live better. it also give the character a reason of existence.
    4. Sure. Telling meanless things not only confuses the reader, but also makes the meaningful sentences unconnected which is hard to read.
    5. It sounds weird but think about it, isn't it annoying to start reading from something that has little connection with the stories?
    6. That make sense to me because peace life is not a readable story, some thing has to happen so the reader has something to read.
    7. I may not get the idea of this one. Maybe is like writing an essay to a specific audience, but write to one person sounds little bit different.
    8. That is an important part. The reader can not start thinking if he or she does not get enough information, he can only accept what the author is writing. The point that the reader starts communicating with the author is when he or she understands the world the author is describing and the surrounding environment of the characters, and starts to imagine what is going to happen

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  3. I'm so happy to have read this. I am saving it for future reference in my anecdotal writing, while taking from it what I can, for my rhetorical writing.

    The first suggestion that I can apply to my rhetorical papers is #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".

    For rhetorical writing, the goal is not to suspend information, but there is also the element of discovering something new through the process of research and critical thinking. Be certain your readers are always aware of the details relating to the context of your own rhetoric. Be clear, concise, and never leave the audience to figure out what you intend to express. Primarily, it is not a critical thinking exercise for them. You're teaching your audience something new through the lens of your own prism. If your prism is murky, there will be very little that gets through to them clearly.

    There is also #1: "I think it is the basic requirement for a good story--get the reader sticked with the story. A story is not a story unless somebody has finished reading it".

    Simply because it's a rhetorical paper, does not mean it should be banal. Keep the reader engaged through transitional means and by asking provocative questions that you intend to resolve, shortly following the question. Be sure you bring it all together in your conclusion, revealing a bigger picture realization.

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  4. I thing the tip about making the character want one thing is important. An essay needs to do one thing and that is to prove an argument. The want of the writer and thus the essay is to compel the reader to accept that your argument is right or to at least consider it and keep reading it.

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