Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007)
Kurt Vonnegut was an American writer. His better known works, such as Cat’s Cradle (1963), Slaughterhouse-Five (1969), and
Breakfast of Champions (1973), blend satire, gallows humour and science fiction.
He was born in Indianapolis in 1922. He studied biochemistry at Cornell University. During World War ll he served in Europe and, as a POW in Germany, witnessed the destruction of Dresden by Allied bombers, an experience which inspired his classic novel Slaugherhouse-Five. He is the author of thirteen other novels, three collections of stories and five non-fiction books. He died in 2007. One of America’s most beloved and influential writers, he was described by the New York Times at the time of his death as the counterculture’s novelist.
In 1965 he wrote a letter to his wife about his daily writing habits
when he was living, teaching, and writing in Iowa City, which was published in the recent book: Kurt Vonnegut: Letters.
In an unmoored life like mine, sleep and hunger and work arrange themselves to suit themselves, without consulting me. I’m just as glad they haven’t consulted me about the tiresome details. What they have worked out is this: I awake at 5:30, work until 8:00, eat breakfast at home, work until 10:00, walk a few blocks into town, do errands, go to the nearby municipal swimming pool, which I have all to myself, and swim for half an hour, return home at 11:45, read the mail, eat lunch at noon. In the afternoon I do schoolwork, either teach or prepare. When I get home from school at about 5:30, I numb my twanging intellect with several belts of Scotch and water ($5.00/fifth at the State Liquor store, the only liquor store in town. There are loads of bars, though.), cook supper, read and listen to jazz (lots of good music on the radio here), slip off to sleep at ten. I do pushups and sit ups all the time, and feel as though I am getting lean and sinewy, but maybe not.
With his customary wisdom and wit, Vonnegut put forth 8 basic rules of what he calls Creative Writing 101:
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.
The greatest American short story writer of my generation was Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964). She broke practically every one of my rules but the first. Great writers tend to do that.
Kurt Vonnegut in his 80s
Kurt Vonnegut’s Website
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