Kurt Vonnegut on Creative Writing #7
1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
- Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
- Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
- Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.
- Start as close to the end as possible.
- 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. 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.
I thought I was writing for the world. As I have said before I thought I had the next great American Novel. So what can we make of this.
At the core of no. 7 is an admonition that I write for a real person. If that one person likes it then others will also. The opposite of this would be to write for a hypothetical everyone. To do that is to lose a concrete and real voice and to end up writing for no one.
A few weeks ago I went away with a group of guys for a retreat. During our free time on Saturday afternoon five of us set out on a walk. We immediately headed down the gravel road marked ‘keep out.’ We passed several more signs that were equally as ominous but we forged on. We arrived at a small damn on an unnamed river. Signs grew more ominous telling us this was city property, no trespassing, do not walk here. I walked up to look at the fish ladder that was designed to let fish bypass the damn. A sign on the wall of the fish ladder said “If you fall in here you will die.” I liked the clarity of message. After we left the damn we wandered around a few more forbidden trails. When we crossed a small stream on a railroad bridge it struck me that our band of 50+ somethings were no different than the boys in the movie Stand by Me. In the movie a group of middle schoolers set out on a journey following a railroad track. Their goal is to see a dead body they have been told about. Okay we weren’t looking for a dead body but we enjoyed our journey all the more because all the signs told us we were not allowed to do this.
I think maybe I write for an updated 13 year old Stuart. I hope other’s enjoy it also.
Henry in the first book clearly tells us he hopes there is at least one person out there who will care enough about him to read his story. He feels he is doing all he can to pour himself out to whoever that might be. In the final telling of the Henry stories there will be that one person who will care.
- 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.