If you’ve ever had the chance to have a conversation with Kurt Vonnegut, then you have encountered his unique brand of charm and humor. Some of the best novels in the last century have come from his mind, including titles like Slaughterhouse Five, Cat’s Cradle, or Breakfast of Champions. Needless to say, when he offers writing tips, then it’s real-world advice you can apply to your own writing.
Here are some of what he refers to as the “basics of writing” for you to consider when composing your own creative endeavors.
#1. Give readers someone to root for within your story. In order for a reader to stay with your from start to finish, it is important for someone that they can cheer for within the context of the story. Someone with whom they identify so they can feel like the character can make a real difference. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to create 3,000 different characters, but you do need to have a handful of well-developed characters that can have meaning to a reader.
#2. Make sure that you don’t waste the time of the reader. When you’re writing a story, what you’re essentially doing is starting a new conversation with a stranger. You just won’t necessarily be meeting that person one day. The one thing that just about everyone hates these days is to have their time wasted. If you’ve promised a great story and you haven’t delivered, then it’s like you’ve approached a homeless stranger who is hungry and instead of giving them half of a sandwich you’re eating, you shake their hand and ask about the weather.
#3. Characters must be like people – there should be something that they want. For characters to seem real, they must have something that they want. It doesn’t have to be anything dramatic. As Vonnegut says, “It only has to be a glass of water.” Without this “wanting” within the scope of a character, the authenticity of your story is going to be questioned. Once that happens, there’s a good chance you’re going to have people stop reading your story – and any other story you write – forever.
#4. There must be a purpose to every sentence you write. This essentially boils down to one of two things that must happen. You must either reveal something about the character or you must advance the action in some way. Don’t just add words to your story because you’re trying to reach a specific word count. Construct your sentences so that they contribute to the overall goal you’re attempting to accomplish.
#5. You don’t have to create a multi-generational tale of epic proportions. In fact, you probably shouldn’t do it at all. Vonnegut advises that authors start as close to the ending of their story as possible. Instead of writing an autobiography for each character, think of your story as a snapshot of time that you’re creating. Your readers can use their imagination to fill in the blanks they need to have from before the action takes place. All you need to do is guide people from start to finish in a logical way within this snapshot of time.
#6. Be evil. Your characters might be filled with innocence, but that doesn’t really make for a compelling story. Imagine the worst thing possible happening to your character, within the expectations of your readers anyway, and then have that happen within your story. This lets your readers see the real stuff that your characters are made of – their “intestinal fortitude,” if you will.
#7. You’re ultimately writing to please one person, not the entire world. Sometimes monogamy is the best course of action to choose as a writer. It might not always be exciting and sometimes it can be predictable, but at least you won’t have to schedule an appointment with your doctor one day to get a shot for that burning sensation which won’t let you sit down.
#8. Descriptions will always be better than suspense. That’s not to say that suspense is unimportant. It’s just less important than giving readers a realistic picture of the world that you’ve created. People need to be able to see the places you write about. They need to get to know the characters in a personal, almost intimate way. If that doesn’t happen, all the suspense in the world which you create will be meaningless because the reader can’t picture that suspense in their mind.
Kurt Vonnegut’s writing tips continue on, just as his memory does, with every writer helped by his outstanding advice. These tips are just the beginning of the vast amount of writing knowledge he left behind. Get started today and there will be no limit to the heights your writing can take.