Monday, April 30, 2012

Another Damned List

By Shannon Baker
I love rules. It’s that ol’ check list thing that gives me piece of mind. It’s the same mentality that probably made me good at school. I know just how much I need to accomplish, check it off, and I win!  Unfortunately, writing, like life, is not confined to one set of rules or one giant to-do list. There is always more you can do. Every day is another opportunity to get better, damn it. Still, rules and lists, and especially lists of rules make me happy.
I came across this from Kurt Vonnegut and it made me very happy because he’s, well, he’s Kurt-Amazing-Vonnegut. (And by "amazing" I mean that word my mother told me I could never say.)  If you’re like me, it will make your day.

Eight rules for writing fiction:
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 heck 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.
- Vonnegut, Kurt Vonnegut, Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons 1999), 9-10.
I’m not sure I agree with Rule #8, but everything else has my seal of approval, even though I’m just Shannon Baker, and not Shannon-Amazing-Baker. (And yes, I do aspire to being able to insert that word my mother told me I could never say.)  Do you have a favorite rule, on this list or not? Do you agree with all eight?

4 comments:

Robin Allen said...

I love rules, too! I often break them, but I love them. :-) I would agree with all of these, even the eighth, depending on what you're writing.

Jess Lourey said...

Conflict in every scene is a good rule, and feel what your characters feel, though it's hard for me to do both consistently.

Great to see you at Malice!

Keith Raffel said...

I was taking a class in modern fiction from a visiting professor when an undergrad. He was wedged into a small office with the English dept's other visiting prof, Kurt-Amazing-Vonnegut whom I would say hi to. But I didn't take a course from Kurt-Amazing-Vonnegut which I regret to this day.

Keith-Amazing-Idiot.

Linda Hull said...

I would like to comment extensively but Jess Lourey and Vicki Doudera made me too tired at Malice to construct any type of pithy response.