Eight Essential tips on writing a short story…via Kurt Vonnegut…

vintage typewriterKurt Vonnegut was certainly never dull…especially when giving advice to other writers. Here are his eight essential tips for a short story that I keep in mind every time my fingers stroke the keys, or my pen hits the clean white page…

  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 who 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.

For more great articles by Kurt visit Open Culture page. I’m heading for “How to Write with Style” next!

The seeds of stories…


The seeds of our stories are planted within ourselves. We might jot down ideas in a journal or pour our hearts out on the page of a first draft in a highly personal and uncensored manner. We formulate our innermost thoughts and then record our experiences, or sketch fictional characters and plots. We reach down deep within ourselves and see what germinates. This is healing. – Tracy Strauss, Harnessing Creativity

Kissing the muse…

Image of Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke, Rolling Stone Mag 2012

7 or 8 Things: Character Study

Another character study fiction piece using Michael Ondaatje’s formula short called 7 or 8 Things I Know About Her.  Here’s: 

7 or 8 Things I Know About Him: A Character Study; Quinn. 

  by J. Rains

        His Father

After his father died he burned all the notebooks.  He painted the basement black, where his father slept until he died, while his mother was on vacation.  Have to get away, she said.  When she came back, she picked up the notebook ashes with a dustpan and brush.

        The Cat

You look like something the cat dragged in, his mother said to his father.  He couldn’t remember the cat dragging anything in the house, except once a chipmunk, which looked cute and fat as it lay on the gold linoleum floor.

        The Pills

He secretly unscrews all his wife’s vitamin capsules and inserts a birth control pill in each one.  He watches her take the vitamins every day.  He doesn’t know that she replaced the vitamin bottle with a new one when she noticed the expiration date.

        First Criticism

He is five and his grandmother tells him that his feet are pigeon-toed.  He doesn’t know what this means.  He writes pejn-td in the notebook his mom got him at K-mart.

       Listening In

Overhear him say “you suck” and “fuck you jolly” to his new laptop computer.   Saturday morning.  9:30.

        Self-Criticism

“Growing up I knew I was different.  I was always alone.  In my head I was surrounded by people no one could see.  I still am.  I can work out conversations with all of them.   It gets me no where.”

        Dreams

The lucid one are about living at a beach house in California where a supply of pre-written novels are hidden in a cupboard, ready for submission.  In his real nighttime dreams he sees the dark things darting back and forth, his vision waning.  There is no beach.

        What we know…

Is that he has thought about taking his own life, how easy it would be to hit the entire bottle of pain killers and obtaining endless sleep.  We know his wife will find him around 6 p.m.

        What we don’t know…

Is that he is incapable of actually swallowing a pill.  We don’t know that his wife has been dead for almost a year and will not find him around 6 p.m.

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Writers comments:  This is a character from one of my longer short stories. He’s a writer who can’t remember how to write.  It is actually a journey into a mental meltdown, a man so altered by the death of someone he loves…The cat sequence is from a comment my mom always said and an event in my own childhood when my cat brought home a chipmunk in his mouth for us.  It was quite cute, even though is was dead.