With news of Vonnegut’s passing, here are his Eight Rules of Writing Fiction, which can be adapted to non-fiction as well:
- Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
- Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
- Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
- Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.
- Start as close to the end as possible.
- Be a sadist. Now 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons 1999)
I think #5 is an important tool for writers. It tells us we need to think about the conclusion first, and get right to the point.
Update: Screenwriter Jane Espenson comments on how these rules apply to scriptwriting.
If you are interested in essays about writing, and good advice on how to do it well, pop over to this compilation of articles by writers about writing. It is aimed at writers of science fiction, but it is an admirable introduction to the craft of writing and the business of publishing.
If you just want another list: here are George Orwell’s 6 rules for writing.
- Alex Epstein’s Complications Ensue
- John August
- Lee Goldberg’s A Writer’s Life
- Fun Joel’s Screenwriting Blog
- Artful Writer
- David Eldridge
- Josh Friedman
- Fin Kennedy
- Billy Mernit
- Ken Levine
- Benjamin YeohGilman’s Grotto
- Dennis McGrath’s Dead Things on Sticks
- Kung Fu Monkey
- Matt Watts
- Ron Moore’s Blog
- Neil Gaiman
- Peter David