V is for Vonnegut


Kurt Vonnegut Jnr was born in Indiana in 1922 into a family of Architects. He studied Chemistry at University but enlisted in the Army at the start of WWII. During the war he was a POW and was inprisoned in a building the Germans called Schlachthof Fünf (Slaughterhouse Five).

After the war he continued his studies at University, but switched to Anthropology and worked as a reporter at The City News Bureau of Chicago. His first short story appeared in print in 1950 and his first novel in 1952, but through the 60’s the structure of his work changed. He enjoyed experimenting with the structure of his novels and this is most apparent in Breakfast of Champions.

Vonneguts novels had science fiction themes but have been widely read by fans of other genres. In 1997 he announced his retirement from writing fiction but continued to write for the magazine In These Times, articles ranging from observations on a trip to the post office to contemporary US politics.

He taught and lectured in English at Harvard and died in 2007 after a fall down the stairs where he suffered massive head injuries.

In ‘Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction’ Vonnegut listed eight rules for writing a short story:

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.”

Vonnegut’s – How To Write With Style

My favourite Vonnegut quotes:

“Who is more to be pitied, a writer bound and gagged by policemen, or one living in perfect freedom who has nothing more to say?”

“Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armour and has attachked a hot fudge sundae.”

“Literature should not disappear up its own asshole, so to speak.”

“Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule, do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.”

Kurt Vonnegut – the shape of the story – EXCELLENT – If you haven’t already seen this you really should 🙂

Vonnegut continues after the 8 Rules Of Writing by saying that these rules are broken by many well known, and much read authors. So how do they get away with it? Learn the rules then break them seems to be the general advice, but then you’re also told that as a new writer you should conform to the standard way things are done or an agent or publisher won’t touch you with a barge pole *slumps* lol. Do you stick to the rules or get pleasure in breaking them?


I is for Irving

John Winslow Irving (born John Wallace Blunt Jnr) was born in New Hampshire in 1942 and whilst still at school became a wrestler and coach. He published his first novel at the age of 26, which flopped.

In the late 60’s he took a class with Kurt Vonnegut at The University of Iowa and then produced two further novels, both of which sunk without a trace.

Now in his early 30’s he took up the position of Assistant Professor of English at a college and decided to approach another publisher with his 4th novel, which was obviously a good decision, as The World According to Garp became an international best seller.

“Garp” propelled Irving to success and his subsequent novels (The Cider House Rules, A Prayer for Owen Meany, A Widow for One Year, and The Fourth Hand, to name a few) have helped establish him as one of Americas most loved writers.

Irving’s novels usually center on characters whose stories are in the recent past and who are often outsiders, trying to find their way in life. He often uses the literary technique of “story within a story” and is currently working on his next novel.

My favourite John Irving quotes:

“I spend about two to three months planning the path of the book in my head before I write the last sentence of the novel. From there I work back to the beginning. From the day I think of the last sentence to the book’s publication date, not more than a semicolon has changed.”

“I can’t imagine what the first sentence is, I can’t imagine where I want the reader to enter the story, if I don’t know where the reader is going to leave the story. So once I know what the last thing the reader hears is, I can work my way backward, like following a roadmap in reverse.”

“The building of the architecture of a novel—the craft of it—is something I never tire of.”

“I’ve always preferred writing in longhand. I’ve always written first drafts in longhand.”

“I have pretty thick skin and I think if you’re going to be in this business, if you’re going to be an actor or a writer, you better have a thick skin.”

Interview with Irving…over half an hour long but do watch it, its very good 🙂

Oh gawd, yeah, a thick skin *gulp* lol. I’m not sure I have it, or rather, enough of one 😉 Anyone got any tips on developing a thick skin?

After NaNoWrimo – Editing Part 1

So how we all feeling this morning? Any Wrimo’s take it to the wire last night? We had one lady on the Kent FaceBook group who finally hit the 50k at just before 11.30pm (UK time). I couldn’t go to bed before she’d finished and validated.

So that’s it, my official ML duties are over! Awwwww, it’s been fun, but now this is where the real work starts. We have our 50,000 words, so now what? The theme this month on the old blog will be editing, and to start us off, a guest post by Bridget Whelan who teaches Creative Writing. I think this will be very handy 😉

After NaNoWriMo
Three bite-size guides to editing and revising your NaNoWriMo novel.


Write drunk, edit sober – Ernest Hemingway

The relief is wonderful. Nanowrimo is over, done and dusted for another year. You have so much freedom and so much time to do other things. Some of you may even have a NanNoWriMo certificate to prove you took the challenge and won and – as long as you didn’t write your name over and over again – you should be proud of yourself. Very proud.
​Of course, some of us didn’t mange 50,000 words, but as long as you have more words written now than you did on November 1st you’ve made an important step in your development as a writer. And you know that yourself until a small steely voice sounds in your head and says, it’s all rubbish. And the bits that aren’t rubbish have been done before.
​That’s the voice that stops you writing. That’s the voice that NaNoWriMo silences with a frenzy of activity. That’s the voice of an editor. It’s a mean-spirited companion, dismissive of hard work and effort. It won’t offer any rewards for sticking with it, reaching goals and staying up late. All it cares about is what’s on the page and when you come to look at what you’ve written during NaNoWriMo, that’s all you should be care about too. Even when it means blood on the floor.

Three things to do before you pick up a red pen or press delete

1) Rest and Recover. You wrote in a fever. You need the story to settle in your mind and you also need to create some distance if you’re going to listen to that editor’s voice. How long? At least two weeks.
2) Read. Anything except your NaNoWriMo novel. Read poetry for the language. Read cheap trashy novels you hate to learn what not to do. Read cheap trashy novels you love to learn how they captured you. Read action novels for pace and crime fiction for suspense. Read horror and speculative fiction for imagination and fairy tales for permission to push the boundaries (A brother and sister abandoned by their parents and enslaved by a female cannibal? Did you go as wild during NaNoWriMo as Hansel and Gretel?)
3) Watch the video of Kurt Vonnegut describing how to plot a best seller. It will have you laughing and thinking.

Four things to do when you read your NaNoWriMo novel again

1) Breath deeply. Dive in. If you can, try to read all the way through in one sitting. Ignore your emotions: horror, embarrassment, mild pleasure, surprise. Read with a pen in your hand and summarise every chapter (or five thousands words if it isn’t broken down into chapters yet). No one will see these notes so they can be as clunky as you like. Stick to about 100 words for each summary – these are working notes and shouldn’t take up too much of your writing time
2) Imagine you are being interviewed on radio. How would you describe your main character? What does your main character want? No waffle: be specific. The radio audience won’t like vague phrases about rites of passage or someone finding themselves.
3) Even if you have written The End in big bold letters and drawn a line underneath it, consider possible alternative ways of resolving the issues in your NaNoWriMo novel.
4) Ask yourself if you want to spend a lot of time living with this story and the people who inhabit it. Vikki described herself as being haunted by the story she was trying to tell in first Nanowrimo writing. That’s a very good place for a writer to be.

Coming up in PART TWO (tomorrow) five ways of editing that first rough draft.

A great article Bridget, I will definitely be following your advice 🙂

Please leave a comment for Bridget with your thoughts and opinions, or pop over to Bridget’s Blog to say Hi