Alison McQueen

Random people and things I love...

Kurt Vonnegut Masterclass

Can writing be taught? It’s a moot point. Still, there’s no harm in watching the occasional masterclass, and it’s an excellent form of procrastination for those writers who would rather clean the back of the oven with a Q-tip than sit at the desk and bang their head against their typewriter.

Kurt Vonnegut has neatly conveyed the structure of story in a handy graph.

This is his advice on how to write a short story:

  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.


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