How to Write a Short Story: Advice from Kurt Vonnegut

How to Write a Short Story: Advice from Kurt Vonnegut

“Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.”
– Kurt Vonnegut

In this video, narrated by the author himself, Kurt Vonnegut shares eight insightful tips for writing a great short story.

This advice was published in the introduction to Bagombo Snuff Box, a collection of Vonnegut stories written during the fifties and sixties for popular magazines including Collier’s and The Saturday Evening Post.

Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 Tips for Writing Short Stories

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.

For more inspiration from Kurt Vonnegut watch him explain The Shapes of Stories.

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9 Comments

  1. 19 April 2014 / 10:46 pm

    Thank you Kurt.
    I’m holding Letters in my hand. Somewhere in here, between the pages maybe, it also says,
    Be yourself

  2. 12 August 2014 / 12:15 am

    It’s great! There is a folklore of India in which a cow called ‘Punyakoti’ is the heroine; and Aryabhata a tiger is supposed to be a villain who finally turns out to be angelic! It is in the form of a poem and it is one of the best stories that one can read at anytime for both childrn and adults!

  3. Ellie C.
    9 February 2015 / 3:55 pm

    Thanks Kurt.
    Advice taken.

  4. lamenta
    27 February 2015 / 10:25 pm

    wow,that was awesome story to learn from you as well as it has been interest into my mind.thank of advice me

  5. 7 April 2016 / 10:37 am

    I hung out with Vonnegut when he lectured @ UCSD. I got him plastered @ Bully’s in La Jolla after his lecture in the gym, where he nearly fell 2 stories off a balcony.

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