Writing Advice

Vonnegut's 8 Basics of Fiction Writing

While Kurt Vonnegut was primarily known for Slaughterhouse Five, he also created a host of other, equally memorable and powerful works. Sometimes extremely dark, while other times outrageously funny his pieces always delved into the human condition.

From his short collection, Bagombo Snuff Box, here are 8 basics for fiction writing:

  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.

I especially love #3 and #4. Each moment in your story must be purposeful and with cause. It took me such a long time to work on feeding readers information in an organic way rather than taking them by the hand. It's something I still have to check myself on.

Which of these fiction basics stood out to you the most? Were there any you disagree with?

7 Reasons Why You're Experiencing Writer's Block

Have you ever heard of a surgeon saying they couldn't operate because they had medical block or an auto repair technician wait for inspiration before fixing a car? The creative field, particularly writing, seems to be the only one in which blocks can occur. Although, there are some that truly believe in this phenomenon, I'm of the mind that writer's block is caused by external factors.

Once you figure out specifically what's wrong, you can then address the issue and write again.

Here are 7 reasons why writer's block might be kicking in:

  1. Distractions. Facebook, the news, your dog, or a new book. Anything can be a distraction and supersede your writing time. Don't let it!

  2. You're Hungry/Thirsty. If I'm hungry or thirsty I can't write. Try to have a meal an hour or two before you start to write. Keep water, coffee, or the drink of your choice by your computer.

  3. Your Environment. If busy cafes are too distracting then don't write in them. Similarly, some people do better if there is a lot of background activity going on. Find out what works best. Also consider temperature, humidity, etc.

  4. You're Burned Out. This isn't the same as being blocked creatively, but rather you're exhausted. You need rest. Let your manuscript sit a while, get some sleep, and then dive back in. Sometimes, you may need to take a few days off. That's okay. It's just like a job. Vacation time is important.

  5. You're Mentally Scattered. What I'm referring to are racing thoughts. They could be because of emotional worry or need. Or, you have too many ideas for a plot. Calm down, pace yourself, and just let the words flow.

  6. Perfectionism. You are obsessed with making it sound good the first time. If it doesn't, you either rewrite what you've written or give up altogether. Stop! Instead, just write and keep what comes out. Editing comes later.

  7. Fear. What if this has already been done? What if everyone hates it? What if they hate me? These fears happen to everyone, but the goal is to fight through them and keep writing.

Can you think of any more not shown? How do you deal with writer's block?

Why Variation in Character Perspective is Important

Imagine that a crime has just taken place a group of witnesses are asked to describe the suspect in question. In one sentence, they say the following:

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From my upcoming book, "Write Horror." Art by me.

As you can see, the perspective of the suspect changes depending on who is being asked. A woman might consider this guy unpresentable while someone with a lot more hair and a shaggy beard might believe him to be well-groomed. In a similar vein, an older man might believe the suspect to be younger, while a teen might rightfully say he was older from her perspective.

Of course, in an actual police procedural, officers would push for more details to get a more fordable picture, but I hope this gives you a good idea of why character perspective is important. Quite simply, your characters are going to view each other differently, and not only is it your job as a writer to understand this, but it also allows your readers to have more character development for each player involved.

Using a Tension and Time Graph for Your Story

Although, not everyone likes the idea of mapping out their story before they even start writing, I do think having structure-based visuals are helpful in looking at the overall arc of your piece. Amongst the most impactful to my personal writing has been the tension and time graph.

See Below:

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As you can see, on the left you have the level of tension where the bottom would be no tension, and the top would be the highest level of tension. Then, you have the time in the story in which these moments occur in your story. Each crisis can also be mapped out so that you have a birds eye view of how each of these affect the larger arc of the piece.

Personally, I also like to dissect my TvT graph by way of scene as well.

See below:

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While this works very similarly to mapping out each moment of crisis, I also like to name my scenes so that I can make additional notes. Whereas, Scene 1 might be "Diner scene" or Scene 2 might be "First confrontation." Overall, the key should be to use these type of graphs to determine how tense your scenes are, at what point in the story they take place, and the rate at which they occur.

In doing so, you will also have a better idea of where you need to cut back, need to add more release of expectation, etc.