Thursday, April 12, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. 1922-2007

Such a great writer! I know he's a huge favourite of a number of friends. He was on the Daily Show earlier this year and it's worth watching this brief appearance. Slaughterhouse Five was the first novel i read by him i was 16 and believed the bombing of Dresden was merely part of the science fiction of it all until years later i met soldiers who, like Vonnegut, had survived that horrific event and were part of the aftermath. The Sirens of Titan is a long-time favourite of mine. And i've many still to go. He will be missed.

I have also loved, for a long time, Vonnegut's advice to writers. In Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons 1999), 9-10, Vonnegut writes:

  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.

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.

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