“I hope to build a reputation as a science-fiction writer. That’s the pitch. We’ll see.”
When people ask me for writing advice, I guarantee that some of that advice will be at least partially recycled from a famous writer who inspired me. One of those writers was the late, great, and slightly weird Kurt Vonnegut. I am totally in love with how the guy crafted word symphonies and birthed eccentric characters, all communicating their (his) intelligently cynical views of the world.
What does this have to do with YOUR writing?
Well, Mr. Vonnegut had 8 basic rules of creative writing that I always seem to be quoting to our authors. I’ve shared and translated those rules below for you – first Mr. Vonnegut’s version, and then my adaptation.
Mr. V: Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
Ms. Ink: How true is this now, with the volume of content out there that your audience has to choose from?
Mr. V: Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
Ms. Ink: Make your readers root for you as their storyteller – root for who you are, what you have to say, and what you can offer them.
Mr. V: Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
Ms. Ink: Let’s flip this and ask: What does your reader want? How does what you’re writing give it to them?
Mr. V: Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.
Ms. Ink: In nonfiction: 1) Reveal something about you or your subject matter, and 2) Move the reader from idea to idea, story to story, point A to point B without getting them lost in the weeds.
Mr. V: Start as close to the end as possible.
Ms. Ink: Start with the end in mind. What is the big “moral of the story” at the end of your piece and how are you constantly building toward it (starting with your first sentence)?
Mr. V: 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.
Ms. Ink: Keep your writing real. Resist the urge to always be “right” – be messy if messy is required, especially when writing your memoir. Very few life lessons are learned from perfect.
Mr. V: 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.
Ms. Ink: Picture your ideal reader and write ONLY to that person.
Mr. V: 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.
Ms. Ink: You have a few precious seconds to get your reader’s attention before they click away to the next thing. Cockroaches might not eat the end of your blog post, but it might get accidentally dele-
(And so it goes.)