Saturday 8 March 2014

Barnaby considers working to rule

One of Barnaby's favourite authors is Kurt Vonnegut, (November 11, 1922 – April 11, 2007), the author of Slaughterhouse Five and Cat's Cradle among many others. (Picture: U.S. Army official portrait of Kurt Vonnegut, c. early 1940s)

Vonnegut listed eight rules for writing a short story in his book Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction. He also commented that great authors break all of these rules, though not necessarily all of the rules all of the time. He also graded his own work, awarding himself grades from A to D (The grades can be found in "The Sexual Revolution", Chapter 18 of his book Palm Sunday).

The Vonnegut list:
  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.
Barnaby has never consciously followed any particular set of rules in his own writing (and probably very few authors do), but considers the Vonnegut list to be sufficiently interesting that he intends to keep a copy close at hand for future reference, though he has no present intention of grading his own stories, preferring to leave that to the reader. Of course, he would be delighted if you were to read any of his stories and leave a considered review, whether judged against the above list, or simply against your own scale of enjoyment.

You can find all Barnaby's stories and quirky poems at

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