See you on Tralfamadore…
Sad news greeted me this morning in the form of Mr. Kurt Vonnegut’s reported death. KV’s always represented to me, if not a level of genius to aspire to (because 1- I won’t even suggest I’m capable of any genius and 2- genius is a word I only feel comfortable assigning to cartoon coyotes), the exemplary nature and potential of calling yourself a writer. You live a life, you tell stories and you do it well. That is something to aspire to.
And because I do, I write.
And because there’s so much I’ve gained from his writing and commentary, (and because it’s my website and ‘whatevah! I do what I want!’) I want to post the rules for storytelling from KV:
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.
Common sense- have respect for your reader. Anticipate the vermin. I think it’s useful applied to screenwriting or any writing. They remind me quite a bit of Mark Twain’s list of nineteen rules governing literary art from Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offences , which isn’t surprising- but I’d do well to follow them both a little closer.
But as to KV, as to the loss of him and the sadness left behind, many will echo the sentiment. They will praise his profound and moving works. They will celebrate his most inestimable humanism. Some will discover. But above all we are moved by the kindness of what Vonnegut has shared.
So, it is with right and warrant that we belabor the obvious- read his books! His essays! Scour the tubes for TV appearances and speeches. Enjoy the fact, as I do, that there was at one time on this planet a man named Kurt Vonnegut who shared his distinct insight on humanity- the condition, humor and fragility of it. Revel that you shared a space of time with this man and perhaps then you can take comfort in knowing your understanding, kindness and humanity were furthered by this man. That’s what Kurt Vonnegut was to me.
So it goes.