Kurt Vonnegut

Writing 101. Hummm – Write A Great Short Story

Okay I’ll admit it, most of what I know about writing short stories came from studying the work of Kurt Vonnegut Jr. like “The Powder Blue Dragon” or “Hal Irving’s Magic Lamp.” Now that dosen’t make me an expert, but it sure speaks well for Mr. Vonnegut.

Vonnegut was an American writer. From short stories to full lenghth novels such as Cat’s Cradle, Slaughterhouse-Five, and Breakfast of Champions Kurt blended an even mix of satire, gallows humor, and science fiction.

And when it came to giving advice to writers, Kurt was never dull. He once tried to warn novice writers away from using semicolons by characterizing them as “transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing.”

In this brief video, Vonnegut offers eight tips on how to write a short story that he originally compiled in his 1999 book, “Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction.” They are as follows:




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

“But,” Vonnegut was fond of saying, “the greatest American short story writer of my generation was Flannery O’Connor. She broke practically every one of my rules but the first one. Great writers tend to do that.”

Amen, Kurt!