The Shape of A Story: Writing Tips from Kurt Vonnegut

A few years ago, Open Culture readers listed Slaughterhouse Five as one of your top life-changing books. But Kurt Vonnegut was not only a great author. He was also an inspiration for anyone who aspires to write fiction – see for example his 8 rules for writing fiction, which starts with the so-obvious-it’s-often-forgotten reminder never to waste your reader’s time.

In this video, Vonnegut follows his own advice and sketches some brilliant blueprints for envisioning the “shape” of a story, all in less than 4 minutes and 37 seconds.

FYI. Original works by Vonnegut appear in Free Audio Books and Free eBooks collections.

Related Content:

Ray Bradbury Gives 12 Pieces of Writing Advice to Young Authors (2001)

John Steinbeck’s Six Tips for the Aspiring Writer and His Nobel Prize Speech

Writing Tips by Henry Miller, Elmore Leonard, Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman & George Orwell

Sheerly Avni is a San Francisco-based arts and culture writer. Her work has appeared in Salon, LA Weekly, Mother Jones, and many other publications. You can follow her on twitter at @sheerly.



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  1. cjs1994 says . . . | April 4, 2011 / 11:51 pm

    Just a note to let you know about a book blog I’ve started with a different twist: “Writing Kurt Vonnegut.” Every Saturday, I post another excerpt from my notebook as Vonnegut’s biographer— profiles of the people I met, the difficulties encountered, and the surprises, such as finding 1,500 letters he thought he had lost forever. It’s a blog written in episodes about being a literary detective.

    Perhaps you’d like to give it a look at http://www.writingkurtvonnegut.com

    All the best,

    Charles J. Shields
    And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut, A Life (Holt, November 2011)

  2. cjs1994 says . . . | April 4, 2011 / 11:51 pm

    Just a note to let you know about a book blog I’ve started with a different twist: “Writing Kurt Vonnegut.” Every Saturday, I post another excerpt from my notebook as Vonnegut’s biographer— profiles of the people I met, the difficulties encountered, and the surprises, such as finding 1,500 letters he thought he had lost forever. It’s a blog written in episodes about being a literary detective.

    Perhaps you’d like to give it a look at http://www.writingkurtvonnegut.com

    All the best,

    Charles J. Shields
    And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut, A Life (Holt, November 2011)

  3. cjs1994 says . . . | April 4, 2011 / 11:51 pm

    Just a note to let you know about a book blog I’ve started with a different twist: “Writing Kurt Vonnegut.” Every Saturday, I post another excerpt from my notebook as Vonnegut’s biographer— profiles of the people I met, the difficulties encountered, and the surprises, such as finding 1,500 letters he thought he had lost forever. It’s a blog written in episodes about being a literary detective.

    Perhaps you’d like to give it a look at http://www.writingkurtvonnegut.com

    All the best,

    Charles J. Shields
    And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut, A Life (Holt, November 2011)

  4. cjs1994 says . . . | April 4, 2011 / 11:51 pm

    Just a note to let you know about a book blog I’ve started with a different twist: “Writing Kurt Vonnegut.” Every Saturday, I post another excerpt from my notebook as Vonnegut’s biographer— profiles of the people I met, the difficulties encountered, and the surprises, such as finding 1,500 letters he thought he had lost forever. It’s a blog written in episodes about being a literary detective.

    Perhaps you’d like to give it a look at http://www.writingkurtvonnegut.com

    All the best,

    Charles J. Shields
    And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut, A Life (Holt, November 2011)

  5. Open Culture says . . . | April 5, 2011 / 8:52 pm

    Thanks Charles. We just mentioned your blog on our twitter stream.

    Best of luck,
    Dan

  6. picture edit says . . . | February 3, 2012 / 2:07 am

    It was a very useful video for me to watch – brief and right to the point, as I am a poetess who is going to learn writing fiction as well. I think I should search for other videos with Kurt Vonnegut, don’t you know where I can find them?

  7. Jenny says . . . | May 7, 2012 / 9:49 pm

    Loved the video clip about Mr. Vonnegut, but the website mentioned in the comments does not appear to be about Vonnegut at all!

  8. SAM PLAATJIES says . . . | May 8, 2012 / 7:16 am

    Vonnegut is a true master of his craft.

  9. Alana Burns says . . . | August 2, 2012 / 4:33 pm

    Hi! This is the best website ever! Thank you!

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