5 June 2015

How to Write with Style

Kurt Vonnegut is very special to me. I commend to you everything he has written. His life is also worth reading about and Shields' biography provides a very rich and detailed account.
If you've read anything by Vonnegut you'll know how special he is and if you haven't then, golly gosh, you've got a treat coming if you do. Start with Cat's Cradle. And do it right away, don't bother with the rest of this blog post. You can always return to it while you're waiting for the ebook to download.

For the rest of you, I'll mention some of the things Kurt had to say about the art of writing.
First up, he offered eight rules which are:
  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.
From the preface to Vonnegut's short story collection Bagombo Snuff Box.
My particular favourite is number 6. If you've read my Jenny Parker series, you'll know that I have very much taken that one to heart.

I also suggest that you read a short article he wrote on 'How to write with style,' the full text of which can be found through the link below.

How to write with style by Kurt Vonnegut

In summary, he suggests the following:

1. Find a subject you care about
2. Do not ramble, though
3. Keep it simple
4. Have the guts to cut
5. Sound like yourself
6. Say what you mean to say
7. Pity the readers
8. For really detailed advice read The Elements of Style by Strunk and White

What I really love about Vonnegut is his ability to express the most complex sociological observations in a simple and engaging manner. When he urges us to keep it simple he shows us how it can work so beautifully.
I used to think that to be considered well written, a novel had to be constructed from long sentences using obscure words. Vonnegut, more than anyone else, showed me that using short, common and easily understood words is much more powerful and engaging for the reader. It also means that I can more easily sound like myself.
No matter how much I might try, I'll never be able to write like Vonnegut. That used to make me sad but now I'm happy to write like me.
Thanks, Kurt.
I'll finish with a quote from A Man without a Country
"I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, 'If this isn't nice, I don't know what is.'"