Vonnegut’s Short Story Rules

I thought I posted this here a long time ago, but I couldn’t find it when I did a search of my site so I am posting it again. I found this via Mike Shea’s blog (which is where I thought I found it initially). Actually, this whole thing may be a dream, and if it is I will soon be awakened by a crying baby. Whatever. Anyhow, here are

Kurt Vonnegut’s rules for short stories

  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.

Anyhow, there is some really good advice in those rules, most of which seems obvious, but is stuff I hadn’t thought about. Number two, for instance says that every character should want something. This totally makes sense, because otherwise why have a character in the story if they have no motivation. However, I do have characters in my current w.i.p. that are just taking up space.

As always, these rules are more guidelines or stuff to think about rather than laws. I hope you get something out of them.