Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Vonnegut's Eight Rules

Kurt Vonnegut's eight rules for writing fiction:
  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. Now 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.
- Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons 1999), 9-10.
Of course, there are always exceptions. Vonnegut added: "The greatest American short story writer of my generation was Flannery O’Connor. She broke practically every one of my rules but the first. Great writers tend to do that."


  1. These are some great rules to write by. And a big hear-hear to his accolade of Flannery O'Connor, one of my favorite writers. I have written about her many times on my blog. She broke the rules beautifully.

    Tossing It Out

  2. These are some of the best rules for writers ever written. I have them printed out and posted on the board above my desk. #1 is so very, very important. It's never about us: It's about the reader.

  3. I love Vonnegut. I read Cat's Cradle recently after a long time away from his work, and I was amazed by how fresh it feels, despite having been published nearly fifty years ago.