At this point in your writing journey, you’ve probably read hundreds of writing tips by famous authors.
If you’re like me, you might file away your favorites and take them out whenever you need a dose of inspiration and motivation. Kurt Vonnegut’s 1985 essay “How to Write With Style” is a definite gem to add to your collection.
The author of the best-selling novel Slaughterhouse-Five outlines eight steps you can follow to improve your writing.
Want to learn how to write like Kurt Vonnegut? I’ve taken my favorite quotes from Vonnegut’s essay and presented them in a helpful infographic. Check it out below.
8 Rules From Kurt Vonnegut for Writing With Style
If you would like to read Vonnegut’s essay in its entirety, you can find it online here.
Kurt Vonnegut certainly practiced what he preached. Although his fiction is not always to my taste, I do have to admit that he was a master of the craft.
Take the opening paragraph of Slaughterhouse-Five for example (Vonnegut, an American POW during WWII, based the book on his own experience of surviving the firebombing of Dresden):
All this happened, more or less. The war parts, anyway, are pretty much true. One guy I knew really was shot in Dresden for taking a teapot that wasn’t his. Another guy I knew really did threaten to have his personal enemies killed by hired gunmen after the war. And so on. I’ve changed all the names.
The paragraph pulls you right into the story. The sentences are sparse and to the point. There are no unnecessary adjectives or flowery language. It makes you want to read more. Why was a guy shot for taking a teapot? Who were these enemies that this other guy wanted to have killed?
Vonnegut’s style is particularly suited to blogging. In this medium, we want to get our point across quickly. There are so many articles vying for our readers’ attention. If a reader isn’t hooked by the first paragraph, he’s probably not going to keep reading.
And he also won’t keep reading if the writing is too difficult to untangle. It’s important to write conversationally as if you were speaking to a friend: address the reader with the word “you”, use contractions, use short words, avoid the passive voice, and let your personality shine through.
If you enjoyed Vonnegut’s eight rules for writing with style, you might also like his eight rules for fiction writing. And here’s another bonus for all of you Vonnegut fans: a short video of Vonnegut presenting what he believes are the three different types of stories.