Writing Rules


Over at Gotham Writers Workshop there’s a post that gives Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 basics of Creative Writing:

  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.

Of course he’s writing from his perspective as a novelist and short story writer. But writing is writing and these can apply to playwriting as well. Especially the character ones. All characters must want something, there should be a character to root for, make awful things happen to your characters. This is how you create drama. This is how you create action on the stage.

I will say I’m not a total follower with number 8. I don’t believe in giving away everything at the beginning. If I know everything, why would I continue reading – or in the case of a play, watching? I do believe that readers/audiences need to understand the world they’re going into and the environment of the world. When you understand the world, it’s easier to let go and be that world, accept whatever happens in that world.

Writing rules are a fine place to start, they’re a great place to start and give structure to a project. But rules are meant to be broken, right? But if you adhere to them to strictly when you’re trying to be creative then you defeat the purpose.

Do you have any hard and fast writing rules? Do you have any rules that you fiercely break on a regular basis?

About the author

Lindsay Price