Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Get to the Point

Kurt Vonnegut on 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.

My first thought was, “What does this mean?”

Then I remembered this friend who loved to tell the stories of his life, but never started near the end. He thought every detail of the back story was essential to understanding the event to be shared. I am afraid I was terribly impatient every time he started to speak. If he were going to tell you about a recent auto accident he had to start with when he bought the car five years ago and then revert to the reason he needed a new car. Then would follow a brief history of the repairs of the wrecked auto. Then before we got to the wreck he would tell you the back story on the other person and the other car. Five minutes could pass before you found out it was a fender bender and no one was hurt.

I find the other way to approach this is to bring as much action forward as possible and reveal the back story as the plot swings into action.

So if there is a life point to this it is to realize that people’s time is precious and not to be wasted or abused so we do well to get to the point.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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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