Update . . . A friend has just sent me one of Vonnegut’s most famous quotes, and as it’s one I wholeheartedly endorse, i’m reprinting it here: ‘We were put on earth to fart around, don’t let anyone tell you any different.’
I have just read with sadness that Kurt Vonnegut has died, aged 84.
Slaughterhouse 5 – his most famous novel – had a big effect on me. Admittedly, most of the books I read between the ages of 15 and 18 had a big effect on me, but there you go.
The book is based in part on his experiences as a prisoner of war during World War Two.
He survived the Allied bombing of the city of Dresden – where almost 150,000 civilians were killed in just two days – as he was being held in an underground meat locker.
After the bombing, he returned to the surface and had to start disposing of corpses. Unsurprisingly, these experiences inspired his strong anti-war views.
In reading about his life on Wikipedia, I came across his rules for writing 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 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.