This showed up on Facebook this week. It’s the 8 Rules of Writing Fiction that Kurt Vonnegut used during his career. I’ve never read anything by Kurt that I recall. (Yes, I know, I live under a rock.)
These rules obviously worked great for Kurt, however, I believe every writer needs to come up with their own rules…or not. Because, frankly, no two writers are the same.
Decide what works for your writing and what doesn’t. Don’t follow someone else’s rules unless they work for you.
For someone who works in law during the day, you would think I would be hardcore when it comes to rules. Instead, I think rules are for boring people. I would rather stretch my imagination and get burned, than to live in a rigid little box that doesn’t allow me this freedom. Plus, on occasion, I like to shock people. I like twists and turns and crazy roller coaster rides. I like big strong mercenary types who knit. And crazy stunt men who think they are elves.
“But, these are his rules for GOOD fiction”
50 Shades, Twilight, The DaVinci Code, and Angels & Demons proves that “good” fiction is relative to selling books. If sales of the above listed books is any indicator, a huge number of people have no idea what good fiction is, so it’s pointless to work toward that bar.
- Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
This rule is impossible to follow. Only the reader can decide if your work is worth their time. And, I would bet a really good donut that a number of students who were forced in school to read his work thought it was a waste of time.For me, I want my work to be a waste of time, an enjoyable one, but a waste nonetheless. I don’t write to make people ponder their existence in this world or to make great change in society. I write so that people can escape reality, even if it’s just for a little while.
- Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
Generally, I agree with number two. It’s hard to read a book where you can’t sympathize with a character. However, a book with characters that produce any strong emotions will keep readers reading.
Anna Karenina in the Tolstoy’s classic was not very likeable. However, the story isn’t one of reformation. Anna’s character, due to her poor decisions, goes from bad to worse. It’s more a tale of warning and lends itself to a somewhat sick satisfaction that she gets what she deserves in the end.
Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
If a character doesn’t do anything in the story, why are they in their to begin with? I’m going to switch to a movie for this one. Bernie of Weekend At Bernie’s wanted nothing at all. He was dead, but was very much an active character in the movie. It certainly wouldn’t have been a comedy if Bernie had wanted anything at all.For a book example, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. The whole series revolves around the Ring, which in its own right is a character. The power the ring has over the person or creature possessing it isn’t from the desire of the ring, but rather the desire of the one who created the ring. But, without that ring, you wouldn’t have much of a story.
- Every sentence must do one of two things – reveal character or advance the action.
Sometimes, you just need description, which neither reveals character nor advances the action.
- Start as close to the end as possible.
Sorry Kurt, but it depends on the story you’re telling. Character driven stories don’t always have a defined beginning, middle and end, nor does some experimental fiction. So, while this rule might work for the science fiction that he wrote, it doesn’t work for all forms of fiction.
- Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet or innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
This might be the only rule that I think is hard to get past. It would be a rather boring story without obstacles of some kind. Although, it doesn’t need to be hardcore sadism ala GRRM to work. Even minor obstacles can show growth in a character.
- 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.
This is advice I’ve heard A LOT, in fiction, blogging, marketing, etc. Have that one ideal reader and write to them. They are your target audience.
It has merit. If you’re submitting it to a publication, that one person is the editor who will decide whether or not to publish it.
One other snag in doing this is the fact that genre’s like YA fiction, which is written for teen girls mainly, is very popular among adult women. Incidentally so is gay romance. Neither are written to a large part of the story’s audience. Who decides to read and enjoy your book is determined by the reader, not the writer.
Better advice is to write a damn good story regardless of whether you please anyone, but yourself. If you expect to make any money from your writing, you will need please a lot more than one person.
- 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.
I call BS on this one. And Then Their Were None would have sucked horribly if everything was revealed at the beginning as would The Relic and any other novel that has a big reveal at the end. Queen of Hearts Goes to Worldcon wouldn’t have been quite so funny if I had pointed out the ending at the beginning.
If the story calls for it, do it. If it doesn’t, don’t do it. Simple as that.