Well, not quite. In my nocturnal ramblings on the ‘net, I came across some memorable advice from that master of surprise and macabre humor, Kurt Vonnegut, which I feel inspired to pass on. It appeared in the preface of his short story collection, Bagombo Snuff Box. There, he offered eight principles of what he called “Creative Writing 101.” Whether you’re a Vonnegut devotee or not, I hope you find one or more of these tips helpful today.
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
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.
Ugggh…page-eating cockroaches. Oh well, creative license and all that! I don’t know about you, but I’m not exactly what our boy Kurt meant in numbers 5 and 8. Any ideas? I should hasten to add that this list was followed by a whopping “disclaimer.” Here it is: “The greatest American short story writer of my generation was Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964). She broke practically every one of my rules but the first. Great writers tend to do that.” Write on!