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Writer’s Tips #64: From the Lips of Kurt Vonnegut

writers tips

Great tips for soon-to-be great writers

When you read your story, does it sound off, maybe you can’t quite put your finger on it, but you know you’ve done something wrong? Sometimes–maybe even lots of times–there are simple fixes. These writer’s tips will come at you once a week, giving you plenty of time to go through your story and make the adjustments.

Today’s tip: Every sentence must do one of two things–reveal character or advance the action.

This is one of eight tips from American short story writer, Kurt Vonnegut, an NYT best selling author who uses science fiction to characterize the world and the nature of existence as he experiences them. From his website:

His chaotic fictional universe abounds in wonder, coincidence, randomness and irrationality. Science fiction helps lend form to the presentation of this world view without imposing a falsifying causality upon it.

Best known for Slaughterhouse-Five (1969), and Breakfast of Champions (1973), he also wrote  fourteen novels. These are great tips from this master story-teller:

  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 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.

What do you think of #8?

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Jacqui Murray is the editor of a technology curriculum for K-fifth grade and creator of two technology training books for middle school. She is the author of Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy midshipman.  She is webmaster for five blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com, and a weekly contributor to Write Anything and Technology in Education. Currently, she’s working on a techno-thriller that should be ready this summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

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8 thoughts on “Writer’s Tips #64: From the Lips of Kurt Vonnegut

  1. Pingback: Eight tips for writing a story like a famous best-selling author | The Buzz Factoree

  2. Pingback: Author Interview: Rick Godejohn author of Time In Eternity | Books in the News

  3. It makes sense for a thriller to thrill you and the way to do that is little bits of info at a time. Thanks so much for checking out my blog! You always provide great tips and useful insights on yours.


  4. Number 8 did throw me off as I’ve been reading so many craft blogs and books lately and the majority have said to only give information when its necessary. But maybe for science fiction having lots of information up front is necessary for the reader to understand? All the stuff about world building I read, maybe that’s what he mean in number 8? I don’t know if its a good thing to give so much information that the reader can figure out the ending….where would the fun be in reading it?

    Great post for discussion!


    • That was my take on #8 also. I dribble out information and most writers I read to the same. Then again, I write thrillers.

      Love your blog with your insights into living abroad. Great for research.


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