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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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”:
- Find a subject you care about
- Do not ramble, though
- Keep it simple
- Have guts to cut
- Sound like yourself
- Say what you mean
- Pity the readers