Thursday, April 12, 2007

So It Goes

Farewell to a terrific writer and an even better human being. Kurt Vonnegut died last night of injuries from a fall at the age of 84.
His own words serve as a better epitaph than I could conjur. As the New York Times said, his philosophy may best be summed up by these words from his 1965 novel, God Bless You Mr. Rosewater or Pearls Before Swine:
“Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies — ‘God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.’ ”
As a writer, I find the advice below, which he wrote about how to write short stories, of great value:
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.
God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut.

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