Wasted time

After looking at Vonnegut’s rules for writing fiction more closely in my last post, I thought I’d take the first one to consider today.

Information used to be difficult to come by. Before written languages, oral tradition was the only way to communicate ideas and stories. Written forms of communication allowed for external storage of ideas, and facilitated the dissemination of those ideas,

Now we live in a world where instantaneous transmission of ideas is common. What I wonder is whether there are ideas that aren’t worth sharing. That “waste people’s time”, so to speak.

Vonnegut, I believe, was saying that a writer should choose words carefully and craft a satisfactory story. Not so much worry about wasting time as just being expeditious in the writing.

But as to stories or writing wasting time, I doubt that you can waste someone else’s time by putting your ideas out there, provided that they are original ideas. It’s an extension of communication, and your audience will find you.

Or they won’t. Maybe no one reads what you’ve put out there. And no one’s time is wasted. But you’ve put it out there.

Consider Van Gogh, who for his entire life lived in poverty and relative obscurity, as well as some notable infamy. Had he felt that his paintings were a waste of time for others to see, he might have given painting altogether.

We just don’t know how our work will be received, and we can’t self-impose our own limitations. Doing so would be wasting our time.

8 Rules from Vonnegut

Started on some fiction based on a creepy dream I had. This was sitting nearby, and has come in handy.

Eight rules for writing fiction:

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. Now 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.

Vonnegut, Kurt Vonnegut, Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons 1999), 9-10.