In the introduction to his book,
Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction, Kurt
Vonnegut shared this writing advice:
Vonnegut's Rules for Writers
- 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
- Every sentence must do one of two things: reveal character or advance
- 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 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.
He also argued the basic principle of "Keep it simple."
Basically it comes down to don't use thesaurus words - or, as Vonnegut described it in
Palm Sunday: An Autobiographical Collage:
"As for your use of language: Remember that two great masters of language,
William Shakespeare and James Joyce, wrote sentences which were almost childlike
when their subjects were most profound. 'To be or not to be?' asks Shakespeare's
Hamlet. The longest word is three letters long. Joyce, when he was frisky, could
put together a sentence as intricate and as glittering as a necklace for
Cleopatra, but my favorite sentence in his short story 'Eveline' is this one:
'She was tired.' At that point in the story, no other words could break the
heart of a reader as those three words do.
"Simplicity of language is not only reputable, but perhaps even sacred. The
Bible opens with a sentence well within the writing skills of a lively
fourteen-year-old: 'In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.'"
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