In college, I wrote many short stories. Most are not well written, but I have a couple that are good and one that I like very much. I’ve been thinking about showing my favorite to my agent in hopes that she can help me get it placed in a magazine somewhere.
But I worry. It was written more than ten years ago and is nothing like the work I do today. I’m afraid that it might simply be dreadful.
As I debate the future of my short story and attempt to rouse the courage to send it to Taryn, I’d like to share Kurt Vonnegut’s eight rules for writing a short story, which I think are rather good, and some of which can be applied to novelists as well, though I reject numbers 4, 5, and 8 with all my soul.
- Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
- Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
- Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
- Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.
- Start as close to the end as possible.
- 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.
- 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.
- Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell 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.