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. Now 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.

Looking for thoughts, especially regarding #8.

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Hey, Jude. Glad you posted this. I don't think I've read Vonnegut's list before. But I confess, I'm also baffled by #8. Rules #1-7 make a lot of sense for crime/mystery/suspense writers. But unless he meant #8 facetiously, what's the point of writing the last few pages?

Do cockroaches eat books? Do they at least read them first?
I don't get #8 either. To heck with suspense? Seems to me my stories got better when I learned to dole the infomation out in bits and pieces.
If that's a serious question -- Do cockroaches eat books? -- here's the serious answer: Yes. They like the glue. The glue that binds the book, but not necessarily the plot, together, There's no evidence they read them first.
They also write them. At least Archie did.
http://www.donmarquis.com/archy/
I agree, Number 8 seems a bit odd, but let's remember the kinds of stories Vonnegut wrote. They weren't mysteries or thrillers.

A side thought: has anyone considered the idea this may be a Top Ten List, and Vonnegut expected us to be able to provide Numbers 9 and 10 on our own?
Good idea, Dana. Let's hear everybody's 9 and 10. Here's mine:

9. Write it straight. No tricks or gimmicks.

10. Be brave and write what you feel. Don't hold back on emotion.
Yeah, Jude, I think your #9 is where he was going with his #8. Not so much no suspense, as no phoney suspense, no ending that comes out of nowhere.

I like your #10, too.
Thanks, John. I also think that's what he meant with #8.
#6 - My equivalent is "Take two really cool characters and torture the H*ll out of them for 300 pages." It's worked well for me.

As for #8, my editor has to remind me to put in a bit more info to satisfy the reader's "Why?" quotient. I'll spin out the mystery, but sometimes I'm a bit sparse as I feel too much detail slows the story. Fortunately my editor knows better. Of course, I might not have realized what that would have meant at the time.

I went to high school with one of Vonnegut's daughters. Never met the man. Wish now that our h.s. had invited him and some of the other luminaries from the Univ of Iowa Writer's Workshop over to talk to us. An opportunity missed.
Take two really cool characters and torture the H*ll out of them for 300 pages.

Sounds like good advice to me, Jana.
It's one of my favorite things to do. I'm a closet sadist, you see. Of course, it could be argued that I'm a masochist as well, since I am a writer.
Who are we to add to a Vonnegut list or an Elmore Leonard list, or ... on and on.

Steal some of these and write your own list.

Jack

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