Kurt Vonnegut's Writing Tips

May 26, 2017

 In this article, I take a look at four of Kurt Vonnegut’s writing tips. 

 

Kurt Vonnegut is one of my favourite writers. I can genuinely say, hand on heart, that his novel Slaughterhouse Five single-handedly taught me a new way of writing prose that became the bedrock of my first collection of short stories, The Things That Scare Us.

 

I love him. For many fiction writers, he’s a god among men. 

 

He’s also one of the few from an era before the Internet who laid down some writing advice that the rest of us could action. 

 

In an era before webinars and expensive coaching classes, Vonnegut was merciful enough to leave us with his writing tips that will continue to be used for centuries upon centuries. 

 

Let’s take a look at Kurt Vonnegut’s writing tips. 

 

1. You’ve Gotta Make At Least One Character Likeable 

 

I remember someone once saying to me, “I like to write about characters who people hate.”

 

Sure enough, in stories there are always characters we love to hate. The pantomime villains. The nefarious gangsters. The smarmy jocks who think they are God’s gift to women.

 

But unlikeable characters are not enough to carry a story by themselves. People will start to lose interest. It’s just in our nature to root for people. If there is no one in a story we can root for, why would we continue reading it? 

 

We want someone we can cheer on, someone we care about about enough so as to make it to the end of the book to discover their fate. 

 

This tip, however, sets you a bit of a playful trap. After all, who defines who is likeable? 

 

Answer: Your target audience.

 

2. Characters Must Have Something They Want 

 

What does your character want? What are they seeking?

 

They need to seek something. 

 

It could be something physical, such as a stolen painting, or it could be something more abstract, such as personal redemption.

 

Whatever it is, give your character something to chase. 

 

And don’t just limit this to your main character. Make sure all your characters want something. 

 

And don’t just limit this to your main, overarching plot. Make sure your characters want something on every single page. It’s these motivations that will shape their dialogue and actions, and it will make them more interesting. 

 

Moreover, you’ll know what to do with them!

 

3. Start Near The End 

 

What does starting near the end mean? 

 

This is actually my favourite of Kurt Vonnegut’s writing tips. What it means is that you should enter the party as late as possible.

 

In other words, start the story when you really have to - no sooner. 

 

Don’t show us the boring stuff in your characters life that preceded the inciting incident. Start at the moment when things are just about to get interesting for them. Everything else is backstory. 

 

4. Write To Please Only One Person 

 

Don’t try to please us all.

 

Don’t go into this with the aim of writing for millions of people. 

 

Don’t try to have broad appeal.

 

Instead, picture just one person in front of you. This is the person who the story is for. Write for them and only them. 

 

These are four of Kurt Vonnegut’s writing tips. If you’re new to his work, you absolutely must read Slaughterhouse Five. It’s a classic!

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