1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted. While the Sugar Hill Gang aren’t spinning their best lyrical gold here, I think we can all agree that when you hear this song, time is definitely not wasted because you can’t stop dancing!
2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for. He doesn’t have to use his AK! HE DOESN’T HAVE TO USE HIS AK. Who isn’t thrilled that Ice Cube is having such a delightful day?
3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water. I couldn’t write a better song to fit this little piece of advice from Mr. Vonnegut. Poor, Skee-lo. He needs a height advantage and a lady friend to call his own. I don’t know if you could want for more.
4. Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action. I’m sorry for you if you’ve never heard Geto Boys’ My Mind Playing Tricks on Me. Also, I don’t know if I like you if you’ve never heard this song. Geto Boys masterfully demonstrate the power of storytelling and a hard beat.
5. Start as close to the end as possible. The beginning of I Got a Man by Positive K begins with a guy trying to hook up with a chick. A story we’re all too familiar with and we all know how it’s going to end. It turns out, she got a man.
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. “Don’t push me, cause I’m close to the edge.” Masterful!
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. I’m not sure that I know what Vonnegut means, here, but if I’m writing to please just one person, it’s usually me. If I’m looking to be pleased, this song gets me there each. and. every. time.
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. Slick Rick’s Children’s Story was probably one of the first rap songs I ever heard. Today this very day, I can recite almost all of it. This song is a reflection of every single tip that Vonnegut recommends. “This ain’t funny so don’t ya dare laugh, just another case ‘bout the wrong path, straight n narrow or yo’ soul gets cast. Good night!”
Thanks Elizabeth! This WAS wonderful–big KV fan here!
Great to hear the tips from Vonnegut! Thanks for sharing. I especially liked the Ice Cube one.
If only there were a Vonnegut – NWA collaboration…