Besides writing literary classics Cat’s Cradle and Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut was a professor. He taught at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Harvard University, and City College of New York. His tips for writing a good short story have become classics in their own right.
I’ve pasted his tips in a notebook as part of my writing and revision checklist. The list gives me structure for analyzing my work and asking if I’ve done everything I can to add depth and meaning to my stories. Whether you’re writing a short story, memoir, or a novel, the tips I’ve listed below apply.
Maybe you’ll want to add them to your own writing and revision list:
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 or 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 character, make awful things happen to them-in order that the reader may see what they’re 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.
The video below shows some great photos of Vonnegut throughout his life. If you’d like more ideas for what to add to your revision list, read Carol’s post, Make your writing stronger by removing filter words.