8 Writing Tips from Kurt Vonnegut

I stumbled on this website recently that had a bunch of great tips on writing from folks like David Ogilvy and Henry Miller . . . but it was Ol’ Kurt Vonnegut’s tips on writing a short story that seemed also incredibly applicable to playwrighting.

Because I think Kurt was a pretty smart guy (and because I always thought he was cool for appearing in that Rodney Dangerfield movie in the 80s – see clip below.), and because my blogs on writing tips from Mamet and others have been pretty popular amongst you readers, I thought I’d list those tips for your learning pleasure here.

You might be asking yourself, “Well, I’m not a playwright – so this blog isn’t for me,” and then you’ll go back to a Playbill.com’s article about their most recent High Seas Cruises.

But before you go surfing those e-high seas, remember theater is a collaborative art form.  And everyone, from the Designer to the Director and, of course, the Producer, is a contributor.  Just because you don’t write a word, doesn’t mean you don’t help tell the story.

Take it away, Kurtie:

  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 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.


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Ken created one of the first Broadway podcasts, recording over 250 episodes over 7 years. It features interviews with A-listers in the theater about how they “made it”, including 2 Pulitzer Prize Winners, 7 Academy Award Winners and 76 Tony Award winners. Notable guests include Pasek & Paul, Kenny Leon, Lynn Ahrens and more.