How to Write a Great Short Story

Download PDF

How to Write a Great Short Story
By Kurt Vonnegut

Note from John: These tips about “how to write” are always tricky. The creative process and the human condition are too complex for one set of rules to be all-encompassing. But I do believe it’s helpful to be exposed to great idea. I try to internalize them and make the ones that fit part of my own process.

As Mr. Vonnegut once said (to split an infinitive), “If you can’t write clearly, you probably don’t think nearly as well as you think you do.”

  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.


Please support wonderful writers like Kurt Vonnegut at your local bookstore or here.