Vonnegut's Rules of Writing

This piece, by P. Bradley Robb, originally appeared on the Fiction Matters site on 3/23/09.

“Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.”
– Kurt Vonnegut

Vonnegut’s first rule of writing addresses what I like to call the Golden Assumption – “If you write it, they will read.”

Yes, writing a book is an incredibly time consuming task. Days often skip weeks and fly straight into months, piling up with abandon before the first draft is even done. After spending so long writing a novel, as a writer it can be very easy to feel entitled. After all, you worked so hard, it’s easy to feel that at least some people should repay you that time by reading your work.

However, reading is itself an investment. When a reader picks up a book, they are asking to be entertained for the better part of ten hours. In the age when laws are being passed to stop people from multitasking while driving, ten hours of undivided attention is no small sum.

Thus, according to Mr. Vonnegut, we owe it to our readers to not make light of that investment. How? Write a book that offers the reader a reward for reading. Not a monetary reward, mind you, but rather a story that is and of itself rewarding.

For some, this means not pulling out a punch out ending ala St. Elsewhere. For others it means nixing a favorite scene because it just doesn’t work, or cutting out a favorite character, or even changing the narrative point of view. For me? It means I am going through a rather extensive pre-writing process before I get too involved in my book.

How about you, how do you ensure that you’re making the most of your reader’s time?

Go to this post on Fiction Matters and scroll down to related posts to read  analyses of Vonnegut’s Rules #2, #3 and #4. .

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