Kurt Vonnegut
Kurt Vonnegut, photo from nndb

Kurt Vonnegut is an American writer (1922-2007) famous for his satire and humour in the face of desperate circumstances.  He has a wonderful theory on “the shapes of stories” – which he presents in the 4 minute video available below.

Vonnegut’s 8 Rules for Telling a Story

In his book Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction, Vonnegut listed eight rules for writing a short story:

  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 hell 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 Shape of Story

Thanks to Alex Rister on her blog Creating Communication for originally sharing this video.  If you click through to her blog, she also shares an infographic with a summary of Vonnegut’s shapes of story.

7 Rules for Writing with Style

As a further glimpse into the mind of Kurt Vonnegut and his views on writing, here are 7 rules for “writing with style”:

  1. Find a subject you care about
  2. Do not ramble, though
  3. Keep it simple
  4. Have guts to cut
  5. Sound like yourself
  6. Say what you mean
  7. Pity the readers



Photo Credit: RainerSchuetz
Photo Credit: RainerSchuetz

The 4 Millionaires

Four millionaires are sitting on a park bench.  Its a sunny Thursday morning.  While many others are working the 9 to 5 routine, George, David, Jonathan and Paul are relaxing in the park.

As you look at George, David, Jonathan and Paul nothing much stands out.  4 standard guys in a park.  They don’t flaunt their money.

However, they took four very different routes to get the money.

Paul bought a lottery ticket on a whim about 7 months ago.  The ticket won.  He became an instant millionaire.

Jonathan had a distant relationship with his parents as a child.  He spent his adolescence in boarding schools.  His family would gather on Christmas, but the relationships were not deep.  5 months ago his parents passed away.  When the will was read, Jonathan discovered that he received a million.  Another instant millionaire.

David set up a company 7 years ago.  He has worked hard.  Over the years the company grew in employees, grew in clients and grew in value.  2 years ago a US company contacted David about working more closely together.  This year that US company made an offer to buy-out David’s company.  Another millionaire.

George joined a bank after graduation.  He suffered through the painful early years giving 120 hour weeks, but he learnt how to work the system.  He has moved steadily up through the ranks and this year finally made it into the upper echelons.  His bonus this year: about a million.

Who Deserves?

What do you think about Paul, Jonathan, David and George?  How do you judge their path to wealth?  Is lottery worse than inheritance?  Is banker worse than entrepreneur?

Who, in your opinion, has the most “Right” to their money?

In the late 1870s, A Dublin-based shoe company sent 2 salespeople from their head office to a new territory in rural Africa.  The two salespeople, Willy and Jimmy, travelled out on boat, trains and foot to reach the rural African areas that was to be their new sales area.

2 months later, 2 telegrams arrived in the Dublin headquarters.

The first telegram from Willy read “Terrible news. They don’t wear shoes.”

The second telegram from Jimmy read “Fantastic opportunity. Never seen a greater need for shoes. Much work to do.”

Are you seeing the world as Willy or as Jimmy?

My father sent me an email that made me laugh today. The original source is unknown, but the meaning is universal…

The Chemistry of Governmentium

The new element is Governmentium (Gv). It has one neutron, 25 assistant neutrons, 88 deputy neutrons and 198 assistant deputy neutrons, giving it an atomic mass of 312.

These 312 particles are held together by forces called morons, which are surrounded by vast quantities of Teflon-like particles called peons.

Since Governmentium has no electrons or protons, it is inert. However, it can be detected, because it impedes every reaction with which it comes into contact.

A tiny amount of Governmentium can cause a reaction normally taking less than a second to take from four days to four years to complete.

Governmentium has a normal half-life of 2- 6 years. It does not decay but instead undergoes a reorganization in which a portion of the assistant neutrons and deputy neutrons exchange places.

In fact, Governmentium’s mass will actually increase over time, since each reorganization will cause more morons to become neutrons, forming isodopes.

This characteristic of moron promotion leads some scientists to believe that Governmentium is formed whenever morons reach a critical concentration. This hypothetical quantity is referred to as critical morass.

When catalysed with money, Governmentium becomes Administratium, an element that radiates just as much energy as Governmentium since it has half as many peons but twice as many morons. All of the money is consumed in the exchange, and no other by-products are produced.


Have you experimented with Governmentium lately?  How did the reaction go?

These are the top 10 TED talks of all time (by total views on TED.com).

1.- Sir Ken Robinson – Schools kill creativity – 13M views

2.- Jill Bolte Taylor – Stroke of insight – 9.6M views

3.- Steve Jobs – How to live before you die – 9.3M views

4.- Pranav Mistry – The thrilling potential of Sixth Sense technology – 9M views

5.- David Gallo – Underwater astonishments – 7.7M views

6.- Simon Sinek – How great leaders inspire action – 7.4M views

7.- Pattie Maes and Pranav Mistry – SixthSense – 6.7M views

8.- Brené Brown – The power of vulnerability – 6.3M views

9.- Bobby McFerrin – plays the audience – 4.9M views

10.- Hans Rosling – Stats that reshape your worldview – 4.6M views

Which are your favourite TED talks? If you love Stories, have you found The Moth?

The Best told Stories on the Web: The Moth

What is The Moth?  The Moth is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the art and craft of storytelling. It is a celebration of both the raconteur and the storytelling novice, who has lived through something extraordinary and yearns to share it. At the center of each performance is, of course, the story – and The Moth’s directors work with each storyteller to find, shape and present it.  Since its launch in 1997, The Moth has presented thousands of stories, told live and without notes, to standing-room-only crowds worldwide. 

Here are the Top Stories at The Moth on YouTube.  The first one from Anthony Griffith “best of times, worst of times” is 100% intense, only to be watched when you can take a short walk after you finish watching.  I love the second video in the list, by Steve Burns on “Fameishness”.  Perhaps you should start with Steve?

What do you think of Steve?  What other websites have great speeches, stories and examples of powerful public speaking?

A peasant farmer lives on the outskirts of a village with his family.

Horse HeadHe comes into the village one day and is visibly disturbed. He speaks to the wise man of the village: “My horse has run away with the wild horses. I have lost my horse. This is terrible.”

The wise man says “It may be good, it may be bad.”

The next day the peasant farmer returns to the center of the village. This time he looks happy. He speaks again “My horse has returned and has brought two extra wild horses back with him. This is wonderful.”

The wise man says “It may be good, it may be bad.”

The next day the peasant farmer returns. He is clearly shaken. “My son was riding one of the wild horses. He has fallen and has broken his leg. This is awful.”

The wise man says “It may be good, it may be bad.”

The next day the peasant farmer is back. He is calm. “The army came looking for recruits for the war. They came to my house. They wanted my son. They saw that his leg was broken and they were not able to take him away to war. I am so lucky.”

The wise man says “It may be good, it may be bad.”

Desert Judee 06A wise man is walking through rough, barren terrain. The sun is beating down intensely, drying everything in its burning blaze.

He hears a noise in the far distance.  It is the sound of digging.  As he gets closer he finds a man digging in the dirt.  The man digs, then mutters his complaint at the lack of riches in the barren earth.

The wise man asks “Sir, what is it that you search for?”.

The digger looks up and without breaking his routine answers “treasure”.

The wise man says “I have a map”. The digger says “I haven’t got time to read maps. I need to find the treasure.” The wise man “I’ll show you where the map says the treasure lies”. The digger says “You are in my way. I have to dig.”

The wise man continues on his walk leaving the digger battling against the heat and the dirt as he continues digging.

Yep. The stuff that seems silly. The stuff that is beneath you. The afterthoughts. The stuff that gets left out when you are in a rush, when you are on a mission to meet a deadline, when your work is more important than other peoples’ work.
St Paul's Cathedral Pinnacle and London Eye. Pináculo de la Catedral de San Pablo y London Eye.
photo credit: J A Alcaide
I was in London staying with a friend this summer (thanks M).  I had several business meetings lined up with people who could help me advance.  I had lunches and dinners arranged with old friends from the time I had lived in London.  It was a week of English sunshine.  All the big things were aligned in the right direction.
On the Tuesday morning, I woke, dressed and had some breakfast.  I took the stairs down to the street and walked towards the Bond St tube station.

On the way I stopped to buy a drink and 2 newspapers (FT and Telegraph) in a little newsagent.  The guy behind the till told me that the cost was 4 pounds and 15 pence.

I reached into my pocket and pulled out 4 pound coins.  I looked at my hand and paused.   I thought “I will have to take out my wallet and pay with a 10 pound note.”

In the moment of pause, a black guy who was standing behind me reached over and put 15 pence in my hand and said “have a good day”.  The shopkeeper took the 4.15 and I walked out of the shop with my papers and drink.

This stranger’s act of generosity, completely unexpected generosity, left me all day thinking “but why? Why did he do it?” and a sense of gratitude.  These 15 pence left me feeling more happy that week than any of the meetings with important people, all the planned social activity.  I am writing about it here months later, and I can’t tell you too many specifics of the rest of my meetings during that week.  (Day out at the Polo was fun; and the Queens club tennis.) 

I used to think that in a long term relationship, it was more important that two people share the same long term goals and less important the little day to day bits and pieces, forms of communication, styles of interaction.  I now think that for happiness it is the opposite.  Joy is in the little things.

I find myself in front on a huge pile of metal keys. Gold keys, iron keys, silver keys, copper keys; Old keys, new keys; Clean keys, dirty keys, rusty keys. A large imposing door is locked behind the pile. I feel a need to open the door and step into the room beyond. I look at the keys. I think: “Which key opens this door?”.

The Big Yellow Door
photo credit: Ray-they

Many of life’s problems are of a similar nature to this locked door. How can I open the door? There are thousands of keys on the ground. Maybe not a single one works? How can I know? I could ask someone. There is nobody around to ask. I pick up a key. I walk to the door. I try the key in the lock. It doesn’t fit. I throw it into another pile and pick another key. It doesn’t fit. I throw it into another pile and pick another key.

This process goes on for hours. Night comes. I rest. I wake. I continue.

Midway through the following day I feel that this is going nowhere. I have tried hundreds of keys. Maybe none of them work. Why am I wasting my effort? I should give up.

I have lunch. I continue.

As night sets I pick up a heavy iron key. It fits snugly into the lock. The key turns easily. The door slides open. I step through to the other side.

An old man is sitting on a bench. He stands as I step through the door. A look of curiosity comes over his face.

“How did you know which key to use?”

“I didn’t know which key to use. I just started trying keys. One at a time. If it didn’t work, I put it on another pile. Eventually one key worked.”

My biggest concern when taking a decision was “what if I look stupid?” “what if I do this wrong?”.

To open the door, the only way was to try keys. I failed to open the door hundreds of times in order to succeed in opening the door. The cynics would have loved that. They would have sat there watching and cheering as I failed again and again. They would have said “sit with us. Why are you doing this? You will never open the door.”