Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Rules of Writing

So Eric, over at Pimp My Novel, had a post a couple of days ago about Kurt Vonnegut's Eight Rules of Writing. He got it from somewhere else, so if you're really concerned with accurate citation, you can follow all the links back. Eric runs an awesome blog though, so even if you don't care about proper citation, go check his post out. :)

These 8 rules really got me thinking and I wanted to share both the rules and my thoughts on them. I realize that I'm no "professional" when it comes to writing. While I have published a couple of random magazine articles, I'm not JK Rowling. Still... I read a awful lot, and I have some opinions on these. Plus, it's my blog and therefore I get to do what I want. :) Vonnegut's rules are bold, and my thoughts on each follow. Enjoy....

1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

Now this I completely agree with, expecially since I'm the kind of person that almost always finishes a book that I start. I think I've only stopped reading a book, like, once, maybe. I always push through to the end, but with some books that leaves me feeling disappointed. I think that all art, be it a book, painting, or song, should do something for the person experiencing it. It should leave them feeling as if the time spent on that piece of art was not wasted; that they are maybe better for it. This concept, to me, also ties into the whole indie-publishing 99cent novel thing. Granted, many of the 99cent books may not be good, but I haven't yet felt like my money was wasted.

2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
Definitely agree with this one, though I sometimes have a hard time with it in my own writing. We HAVE to care about at least one of the characters. I recently finished reading Matched by Ally Condie, which has gotten a lot of buzz. A full review will come, someday, but I had a hard time with the main character. I couldn't sympatize with her. I didn't care whether she succeeded or not becuase she just felt whiney. Contrast that to one of the best characters of all time to root for- Harry Potter. We all wanted Harry to succeed, not just for his own personal gain, but for the fate of the whole world.

3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
Another item that I really struggle with, though I did just figure out what my main character wants in my current WIP. :) I think the bigger trick here is making these desires known to the reader and making the reader want the character to get what she wants. Sort of a combination of 2 and 3. If a character wants a glass of water, but I hate her so much that I want her to dehydrate, I'm not sure that will really work for an entire novel.

4. Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.
Now this one is powerful, especially if you've read any of Vonnegut's own writing. I'm not sure that I agree with this one though. One of my favorite authors is John Steinbeck who has many sentences that do neither of these two things. Rules sometimes, were made to be broken. I love good description of setting and such, though it can be overdone and is terrible if done poorly.

5. Start as close to the end as possible.
Amen to this one. Maybe it's because I just finished The Roar and I felt like I could have easily cut the first 2/3 of that novel. I think that this can be difficult. I know that I have a TON of backstory in my current WIP, but you really do just have to leave it out. Don't drag your reader through 20 years of a character's life before she gets to do something awesome.

6. Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading charcters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
Also hard for me. I want to be a little Pollyanna-ish in my writing, but honestly, that's not life, and it shouldn't be writing either. Crappy things have to happen to your characters to make them change, grow, and take action. My main character's father dies in the opening pages of my current novel. Is is epically sucky? Yes. does it spur her into action? Yes, definitely.

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.
Ha... I love this one, partically because of how it's phrased, but also the actual message. Don't write to please everyone. Don't write about vampires/werewolves/angels/whatever just because it's hot right now. Don't write planning to make a billion dollars on marketing and movies and stupid dolls of your characters. Write thinking of that one person for whom your book will change her life. If her elebenty plus friends love it as well and you get movies and candy and dolls, then great, but write for that one person first.

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.
Well.... maybe. I read and loved Graceling which give us nothing to start with and is all kinds of mystery for quite a while. I also love books that give me everything. I actually really like prequels, where I know where the book has to get to by the end and am excited to see how the author takes me there. But, I know that this may not work for all people. I'm also the person who likes to read the last two lines of a book before I start it, and doesn't mind watching an entire football game even when I already know who won. I think for me, this rule works, but I would imagine that most of the population likes a little bit more mystery in their books.

So, those are my thoughts on the rules of writing according to Kurt Vonnegut. I'd love to hear your take on the rules. Any you particularly love or hate? Does writing need rules at all or should we just do whatever we want as the creators of our worlds? What are other writing rules that you subscribe to?

(These are from the above link, which in turn borrows them from Vonnegut's Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction.)


  1. I love this!! These rules are applicable to just about anything in life worth having.

  2. It's difficult to comment. The page keeps freezing.

    I craved for rule 2 when reading Wuthering Heights. I just didn't find any character to love but I hated all of them including the major narrator.

    Then I can also do with some information upfront.

  3. Well said. Those are all good things I consider in my writing. Nice to meet you and your blog, btw!



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