Sunday, November 1, 2009

Kurt Vonnegut: Writing With Style

Dave Eggers, author of many highly-touted books, screenwriter for Where the Wild Things Are and Away We Go, and creator of McSweeney's (a literary journal) shared his review of Look at the Birdie: Unpublished Short Fiction by the late Kurt Vonnegut in the New York Times Book Review (11/1/09).

I discovered (and fell in love with) Vonnegut's short fiction long before I ever seriously considered that storytelling could be a viable function of my life. I was always intrigued--and greatly influenced--by what my much more talented, creative and over-achieving sisters and brother were reading. One rainy day, I remember sneaking into my brother's room, scouring his bookshelves and borrowing his copy of Vonnegut's short stories, Welcome to the Monkey House. (The title is what lured me.) "Long Walk to Forever" is the story from that collection that stole my heart. It is a tale of stark realism about the possibilities of love. It's told simply and straightforwardly--no gimmicks or tricks--and the dialogue is pitch-perfect. I loved each story in Monkey House--the shifts in point-of-view were so refreshing, as were Vonnegut's dips into satire and futuristic fantasy--that I never did return that book to my brother's room. To this day, that well-read and worn paperback still sits on a shelf over my writing desk with many other books that have been my greatest teachers--in craft and in life.

If you want to read more about what Vonnegut had to say about the art of storytelling, San Diego State University published "How to Write With Style"--an excerpt from Vonnegut's book of essays, Palm Sunday (New York: Dial Press, 1999). In the piece, Mr. V suggests the following seven points to improve your writing:

1. Find a subject you care about
2. Do not ramble, though
3. Keep it simple
4. Have guts to cut
5. Sound like yourself
6. Say what you mean
7. Pity the readers

Link to the article for more insight into the above.
Great advice for writers--of all genres.

Photo of Kurt Vonnegut from State University of San Diego