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Home » Archives » April 2007 » Usually it's not, in fact, a glass of water
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04/12/2007: Usually it's not, in fact, a glass of water

Very sad news about Kurt Vonnegut. Slaughterhouse Five is a personal fave. Sigh.

Friend-of-the-blog Jeff directs us to this interesting artifact, a list of Vonnegut's Eight Rules of Writing Fiction, from Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons 1999), p. 9-10:

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.
-- Kurt Vonnegut

These are fascinating, and they can be applied, obviously, to script writing as well as to prose. (Well, except maybe rule 4 -- some of your sentences are stage directions, which are a part of different conversation than the one occurring in the fictional world.)

Rule 8 is making me think a bit, and not just about the cockroaches. I assume he meant that readers should be able to imagine a satisfying ending, not that that they would be able to anticipate the exact ending you're giving them. Don't you think?

Rule 5, "Start as close to the end as possible," is genius. Remember when I talked about taking the events that happen late in your script and using them instead as a starting place? Remember when I talked about cutting into scenes after the main action of the scene has begun and joining them in progress? I had never thought of these as part of the same impulse, but they are. They're part of starting near the end. Beginnings are often boring, endings are not.

And yet there are things we never wanted to see end.

Lunch: salad and some of a jelly doughnut


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