Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 Rules for Writing Fiction: Rule 4
Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007) was an American writer. In his book Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction, he listed 8 rules for writing. The fourth of them was:
Every sentence must do one of two things - reveal character or advance the action.
I’m sure we’ve all sat and read books that waffle and ramble on and on about things that seem to have little consequence. Did you enjoy reading them?
Moreso these days, with so much media available to us and even so many books available to us, no reader wants to have their time wasted. You need to make sure everything you write is important to the story. This is especially pertinent if you are writing to a strict word count limit.
She stretched up, revealing a small hole in the underarm of her top.
Think about what this sentence is telling you. It’s active - she’s doing something, which helps to push the story forward, but it also reveals something about her character. Perhaps she can’t afford to buy new clothes, and has to buy cheap ones that wear out quickly.
The sentence is working hard both advancing the plot and revealing character. I don’t need to tell the reader my character has little money; I’m showing it.
Make your sentences work for their space in your story; don’t leave the reader wondering why you left them in.
Do you have any tips for writing power hungry characters? (Btw, I love the blog! :) )
This is all I have so far…
This list doesn’t mean your character should have every single one of the traits on it, but they’re strong ones to consider. Pick and choose the ones that fit your character best from these:
You may be able to think of more…! Either way, it’s important that you keep this character balanced. It’s too easy to attribute too many negative traits to power-hungry characters. So here’s how to round them out…
The key things you want to know are:
- Why does your character want power? How have their current circumstances influenced that desire? What do they stand to gain, and what do they stand to lose? This is where you can really get to understand your character. Ask them ‘why?’ until they can’t answer you any more. They should have a clear reason for striving towards their goal, after all.
- What kind of power are they aiming for? Do they want to become the head of an important company, or are they looking more at ruling the country? The world? Think hard about the extent of the power they’re after. If they did ever achieve the top spot, what kind of things would they be capable of, or be allowed to do?
- Who is in the way? To get power, you have to take power. So who is your character up against in their quest for more influence?
- When did they become power hungry? In other words, what is the catalyst to their ambition? People don’t seek further power without a real reason; there are plenty of people in the world who are happy to accept where they are, and what they are allowed to do in that position. There is generally an awakening moment when the person thinks, ‘actually, I don’t want to live this way any more’ and so they seek a way to change their circumstances.
- How do they gain power? What kind of behaviours are they willing to carry out in order to get their way? What obstacles do they have to clear? Think about their path to power and how it shapes them.
We’re not born with an inherent need to take over the country we live in, or to lead a business or beat the whole class in academic exams. Something makes us decide why we want those things. Your character needs a catalyst to their desire for power, too.
Either they’re pushed into it, they decide they want it or they are taught to strive for it.
The Path to Power
You need to think about when your character sets their plans in motion, and what kind of things they do as they climb up the ladder. Nobody goes from the very bottom to the very top overnight. Treat each rung like one major event in the timeline until you get to the end.
Gaining power requires a lot of groundwork. Some things to consider:
- The friends they make;
- The enemies they make;
- How the one currently in the position of power views them (do they admire your character or distrust them? What kind of things might they do (either intentionally or unintentionally) to allow your character to creep closer to the top?);
- What your character does to gain trust/likability;
- What your character does to gain control/fear.
Achieving power is one thing, holding onto power is another. What does your character do to protect their place? Who threatens their position? This is when your character becomes desperate to justify their actions, and when they may consider behaviour they previously thought immoral (or never considered before).
At this point, your character may be ruthless. What is the worst thing they are prepared to do in order to keep their power?
Support and Protest
Of course, other people keep this character in power in two ways:
- Through support;
- or through silence.
What happens to those who don’t keep silent? What kind of things do the supporters have to do to retain their power? Additionally, how much support is there, and how much protest? What kind of things do the protesters do to affirm their beliefs?
Nothing stays the same forever. Either power is ripped from your character or they pass on the power to somebody else, beginning a whole new era. Think about what kind of end would suit your power-hungry character.
I think that’s about it…
History has some of the most fascinating and awful tales of people rising to power. Even if you’re not writing a character aiming for a throne or to rule a kingdom, country or world, understanding real people is a good step forward when it comes to basing characters on them.
I hope all of this is of some actual use, ha ha… ;;;;; (Btw, the blog loves you, too!)
Tumblr Guessing Game… THIS LOOKS LIKE FUN DO IT
Can you guess from my posts what is my:
* Sex and/or Gender
* Sexual Orientation
* Race and/or Ethnicity
* Field of study and/or field of work
* Favorite TV show(s)
* Favorite book(s)
* Favorite video game(s)
* Favorite food(s)
Leave any answers in my ask and we’ll see how accurate you are
LOL this is gonna be funny
I wanna play!
tumblingteguru said: you should have told him you only like em cold :b im sure that would have gone over well.
I’ll remember that next time :B I’m obviously not creeping out my customers enough yet, gotta amp up my game.
Garnet! Another warmup before the workday.
I love this woman.
So I was ringing up a guy at the register today and he brought up condoms to purchase. I was bagging them and he goes “So, if I have some left over what about you and I finish off the box later.” or something to that effect.
I am still sitting here wondering if there was someone standing behind me at the time
though there wasn’t and if that condom pick up line has ever worked for anyone before.
please stop being cute it makes my heart sad because i can’t nap with you
"One of the first houses we lived in was like out of a fairy story. We had a stream that ran through our garden, and we played with the ducks - we locked them in my mum’s office and they pooed everywhere. It was crazy, picking blackberries and mushrooms, rabbits running through your legs." — Emilia Clarke for Flare Magazine (2014)
Sophie Turner for Glamour UK March 2014 [X]
MY GIRLFRIEND IS FUCKING INSANE
No it would be instantaneous and then your body would float around those big colorful nebulas and you could get to other galaxies and maybe become part of a moon or get incinerated in a star or fall into a black hole.
You could become part of an asteroid and impact on a moon and your microscopic dust remains are scattered all over the crater.
You could become part of a star and undergo nuclear fission and turn into hydrogen and your body is a tiny fraction of the process of the star and you make light for the universe and then the star ages and your atoms get turned into iron and then the star goes supernova and you’re spewed across the universe as space dust.
You could land of a kind-of habitable planet and your DNA survives as you start to decompose and in a few million years the primitive life forms of your body become science’s greatest mystery for humankind.
You could be found by an alien civilization who’s also wondering ‘are we alone in the universe’ and suddenly they know they’re not because woah processed materials and tools and crazy-developed processing centers woah and then in a couple thousand years they make first contact because of the space-travelling cultural revolution your corpse prompted in their society and the humans of the future go ‘how did you get all these spaceships and junk’ and they reverently pull out your body and you are interred with great fanfare and people make you statues and holidays and stuff.
Your body could end up literally anywhere in the universe and you’d be the first human there because who said you had to be alive huh?
What is wrong with you