How To Write With Style: Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut, in the anthology titled ‘How To Use The Power of the Printed Word’, mentioned 8 tips which would be helpful for any aspiring writer to develop a style. Here are those 8 tips:

  1. Find a subject you care about. Find a subject you care about and which you in our heart feel others should care about. It is this genuine caring, and not your games with language, which will be the most compelling and seductive element in your style.
  2. Do not ramble though. I won’t ramble on about that.
  3. Keep it simple. As for your use of language: Remember that two great masters of language, William Shakespeare and James Joyce, wrote sentences which were almost childlike when their subjects were most profound.
  4. Have the guts to cut. Your rule might be this: If a sentence, no matter how excellent, does not illuminate your subject in some new and useful way, scratch it out.
  5. Sound like yourself. The writing style which is most natural for you is bound to echo the speech you heard when a child. I myself find that I trust my own writing most, and others seem to trust it most, too, when I sound most like a person from Indianapolis, which is what I am. What alternatives do I have? The one most vehemently recommended by teachers has no doubt been pressed on you, as well: to write like cultivated Englishmen of a century or more ago.
  6. Say what you mean to say. I understand now that all those antique essays and stories with which I was to compare my own work were not magnificent for their datedness or foreignness, but for saying precisely what their authors meant them to say. Readers want our pages to look very much like pages they have seen before. Why? This is because they themselves have a tough job to do, and they need all the help they can get from us.
  7. Pity the readers. They have to identify thousands of little marks on paper, and make sense of them immediately. They have to read, an art so difficult that most people don’t really master it even after having studied it all through grade school and high school — twelve long years.
  8. For really detailed advice. For a discussion of literary style in a narrower sense, in a more technical sense, I recommend to your attention The Elements of Style, by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White. E.B. White is, of course, one of the most admirable literary stylists this country has so far produced. You should realise, too, that no one would care how well or badly Mr. White expressed himself, if he did not have perfectly enchanting things to say.

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