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8 tips to improve your writing from Kurt Vonnegut

Fig. 1 “Be a sadist.” Kurt Vonnegut.

Which I interpret as conflict, as creating a mess and seeing how the characters behave and what lessons they learn or do not learn as a result.

Unable to retain more than one piece of advice in my head for long I’ve created this octahedron with the eight tips Kurt Vonnegut gives. This way I toss this over my desk as I write every so often, at least every time I reach for a sip of coffee. I can then check whether or not I am doing as required.

2) “Give your readers at least one character they can route for.” Kurt Vonnegut.

This is all about creating believable characters: the good, the bad and the ugly. With a mixture of traits, and most having something likeable.

3) “Don’t waste the time of a stranger.” Kurt Vonnegut.

Which I take to mean avoid the dull and the obvious in settings, choice of words and phraseology. Take risks. Surprise and thrill them. It can be how you see the every day in a quirky and original way, and not simply having wacky characters and locations.

4) “Every sentence must reveal character of advance the action.”

Kurt Vonnegut. No more indulgent ‘jazz writing.’ Think like a professional writer and make the words count towards something.

5. “Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible.” Kurt Vonnegut.  

Never play that game of ‘twist in a tail.’ Writing stories is not the same as telling a joke and writing a sketch. Hitchcock used to talk about telling the audience there’s a bomb, then spending the story waiting for it to go off.

6. “Every character should want something. Even if it’s just a drink of water.” Kurt Vonnegut.

Which I take to mean avoid having characters as props to the protagonist: they too want something from life. Show what it is and have it in conflict.

7. “Start as close as possible to the end.” Kurt Vonnegut.

Which I interpret as meaning getting as close to the climax. Don’t hang back, and certainly avoid constant backfill and back story that with each draft takes you away from the big idea and the big events of the story.

From 2BlogI

8) “Write to please just one person.” Kurt Vonnegut.

Please one and you please many. Try to write for many and you’ll either get in a terrible tangle or produce mud.


A writer is only a writer when writing. The rest is marking time


Alan Bennett ‘Untold Stories.’

I run with it, the bile and the vile, the happy and the joyous, the pisstaking, erotic, porno, ranting, wet, good, bad everything that is what I do (though no longer published here). This, after all is writing. This is what defines me as a writer. This Quirky QWERTY that is my mogul field, my ballet, my freestyle.
I find something I like I can lift quotes from every other page. Why I ditched my Henry Miller & Anais Nin collections I don’t know. With Allan Bennett I can barely fill a page of A4 from a book that is some 700 pages long (and about 500 pages too long).
I like this description of Alan Bennet’s mother’s mental collapse.
‘Embarking on one story, she switches almost instantly to another and then another and while her sentences still retain grammatical from they have no sequence or sense.’
Alan Bennett, ‘Untold Stories.’ 2005.
This could be a critic commenting on my first draft of ‘Enter@Random,’ but as this has yet to find a publisher, I’m yet to have anyone comment on it.
‘Bobbing about in a ceaseless flood of unmeaning.’
Alan Bennett, ‘Untold Stories.’ 2005.
He continues, this however is the premise of my latent novel. The person who is in this state of mind is lost. That is how he perceives his existence.
By now, pointed in this direction by a fellow blogger I have read ‘Slaughterhouse 5.’ Kurt Vonnegut.
This guy leaps about, almost at random, from one moment in his life to another.
The problem, of course, is how to make this a relevant plot event, rather than a crude device to offer up anecdote and memoir in anything but the logical, chronological order that is generally required.
Alan Bennett continue with describing his late mother’s demise, from mental collapse into physical collapse.
‘Until the decay of the body catches up with the decay of the mind.’
Alan Bennett, ‘Untold Stories.’ 2005.
More often, the story that gets told, is when it goes the other way round. When a cancer sufferer describes their physical decay and can get this inner conversation down ‘til the day the frame that holds their body dissolves in the sheets of the bed they are in.
There was a time when I couldn’t nor would I read any book, fiction or non-fiction without a notebook to hand; I’d mark and annotate as I went along.
He reveals why personal diaries should never be published, unless highly meretricious or scandalous or as annotations to some brilliant piece of enterprise, be it a novel, film, piece of theatre, architecture, party political campaigning, war mongering something or other.
‘Speech comes out of babbles and no one refers to it.’
Alan Bennett, ‘Untold Stories.’ 2005.
Like this twaddle.
Or any twaddle from any of us twaddlers online. How often doesn’t anyone even care to point out that we are bonkers, boring, can’t write, don’t read, don’t travel, don’t do much with our lives and in so doing reveal f*ck all about the people we are.
On writing a piece of character led fiction
A simple device to write a good story, I am told, as with nothing published to prove otherwise, I would not know – is to take an ordinary character and shove them through extraordinary circumstances.
The reverse works too, taking an extraordinary character and parachuting them into the dull and forcing change – such as I witnessed yesterday watching Bagdad Café for the first time – a giveaway DVD on the Guardian weeks ago. I watched it in bed, not feeling great, on my iBook. It got my attention from the start, got me laughing and crying – and a little mad at how one of the leads ruins this ensemble piece.
See how even a little can act as a catalyst to so much more.
Maybe I’m being unfair. ‘Untold Stories.’ 2005 would hardly be worth publishing as a pamphlet, though I’d still argue that this is all it deserves. I doubt anyone reading this now or in the future will go near the book.
Let me send you my copy.
‘School – when sex seems an extension of organised games. The boys who are good at one are likely to be good at the other.’
Alan Bennett, ‘Untold Stories.’ 2005.
I got stuck in early, found the one for me, and we had each other, pretty much exclusively through our late teens and into our early twenties. Enough. She’s everyone in this diary.
Go seek.
Suzi, First Love. All that. I think. A book, or two or more in their own write.
Exercise winds me up
I crave something vigorous, which is why I recognised what I was missing when I recently got hooked on the Concept II rower.
I enjoyed being ‘fit for sex.’
I coined the term ‘sexercise’ and took this as a concept to the producers of the ‘Good Sex Guide.’ They went ahead and produced the title; the first I knew of it were the posters up in the London Underground.
There’s plenty of talk about the sexual antics of the various swimming squads at international meets
Other quotes from Alan Bennett, sans notes.
‘A writer has to use whatever is to hand in the way of experience; he or she is in the business of making mountains out of molehills.’
I’m in the business of making mountains into molehills, or cow pats, or guinea-pig droppings, with extra sugar added.
‘The random trigonometry points of life’
Which relates back to ‘Enter@Random’ and how to make it work.
On Honours
The happiest temperament to have is one that accepts whatever distinction is offered, and accepts it graciously and without fuss or a lot of soul-searching. This is the nearest one gets to genuine modesty.
On Cancer
The regimen followed by Michael Gearin-Tosh, diagnosed with a multiple myeloma, surviving ten years + on a crack diet.
On Doctors
Because we want someone else to take charge of our life.
On writers and writing
The only piece I read over before taking the book to the Red Cross shop beneath my office or giving it to my mother.
‘A writer only feels he or she is a writer at the point of performance, the moment of writing. Do anything else, even related activities like research or background reading, and the claim seems fraudulent. A writer is only a writer when writing. The rest is marking time.’
‘For a long time, years even, it seemed to me I had nothing to put into what I wrote; and nor had I. I did not yet appreciate that you do not put yourself into what you write; you find yourself there.’

‘Reading is a skill: you have to be taught how to do it.’ Nabakov

Movie Poster House Tour: Crash

Movie Poster House Tour: Crash (Photo credit: fimoculous)




Originally posted on 02/02/2003 in my Diaryland blog.


From Martin Amis


I read a review by Martin Amis each time I go to the loo; which is often given the column of vegetable matter and brown rice that I’m consuming.


J G Ballard ‘Crash’


A 1996 review of the film by David Cronenbourg with more reference to the book on which the film was based that was published in 1971.


I’m so ill read I didn’t even now Ballard had written ‘Crash’.


Everything about him as an author appeals to me though given how his writing style, especially his ‘early style’ as described by Amis. The local library does not have ‘Crash’ – if you have a copy do send me one. Address on request. Was I time I’d order anything on a whim from Amazon, tuck into my credit card; was I time I’d so the same in the bowels of Blackwell’s in Oxford.


I like the way it is explained to us that the main character, James Ballard, does one thing in the film and another in the book .. a book that preceded the firm by 25 years.


‘Under the sway of a ‘benevolent psychopathy’, a ‘new logic’, the entire cast surges eagerly towards an autogeddon of wound-profiles and sex deaths.


I like the idea that crash deals with ‘obsession’, I must of course, having read all of this, get a copy of ‘Crash’ – from the library I hope.


‘Crash emerged from a background of surrealism, cultural activism, hyper-permissiveness and lysergic acid.’


Anthony Burgess


On being a A novelist or a B novelist.


  • Nabakov: His Life in Part by Andrew Field review by Martin Amis
  • Nabakov regarded cliché as the key to bad art, yet it is an attractive irony that bad art is what his life so frequently resembles.
  • Lectures on literature by Vladimir Nabakov. Edited by Fredson Bowers. Reviewed by Martin Amis.


‘Reading is a skill: you have to be taught how to do it.’


Nabokovian advice. The only things that a good reader needs are imagination, memory, a dictionary and some artistic sense.


I need to read Kurt Vonnegut, ‘Slaughterhouse 5’ perhaps, and ‘Galapagos.’ State otherwise.


The library doesn’t even have Kurt Vonnegut


I found a J G Ballard though (not crash). I’m after ‘Les Particules elementaires’ by Michel Houellebecq too.


I can pick holes in the translation of ‘Atomised’ – why? It’s been translated into American English. Ha! You see. There needs to be a English English version, an Australian English version, a Canadian English Version and an Indian English version … there are more. Now who was it who predicted, that like Latin, English would gradually form several separate languages????



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