Random Advice and Stuff

As the title of this post suggests, I just have a few random things to throw at you today.

The first is the difference between the words “compliment” and “complement.”  This is important, I feel, because even I have trouble remembering the difference.  “Compliment” (with an I) refers to praise.  I complimented her on her taste in Jello.  She complimented her boss in the hopes that he would give her a raise.  You get it.  “Complement” (with an E) refers to things that go well together.  This wine complements this chicken dish.  Or the drapes complement the carpet.  That kind of thing.

Next is something my sister emailed me.  It’s pretty self-explanatory, so I’ll just paste it here for your amusement.  My comments are in red, and my cartoons are in…cartoon.

Kurt Vonnegut’s 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.  In other words, when someone picks up the book you’ve written, make sure they know fairly quickly that it was worth it.

2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.  This does not have to be the main character, but it helps to achieve point #1 if you have point #2.

3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.  Motivation.  Your characters should have motivation.  If they do not feel motivated to do anything, then your reader will pick up on that, and then they will cease to be motivated to read your book.  Again, see point #1.

4. Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.  This you’re allowed to disagree with, though I feel these two definitions can be given a very broad spectrum.  For instance, describing your main character’s workplace may not be either of those two things, unless you consider that the way the character views their workplace provides insight into their…well, character.

5. Start as close to the end as possible.  I believe he’s referring to starting in Medias Res, or the middle of the action.  This is your choice, but do remember that if starting at the beginning is as close to the end as you feel you can start, then technically you are following the rule properly.  After all, he did say “as possible.”  It’s up to your judgment where and when to start your story.

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.  Yes.  If you’re having trouble with this, it may be necessary to write “They aren’t real” on the back of your hand in Sharpie.  The fact of the matter is that your characters are at their best when all aspects of their strengths, weaknesses, and personalities (that is, each character’s personality, not each character’s multiple personalities) show through.  And this can only happen if you put them in situations that are all over the spectrum of “Good” and “Bad.”

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.  You can’t please everyone.  But if you can make just one person read your story and say that it made them think, or changed their life forever, then you’ve accomplished something big.  Never forget that.

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.  This is hilarious, but not entirely true, depending on who you talk to.  I do agree that you can’t leave your readers totally lost.  Readers, for the most part, don’t want to have to fight to keep up with your story.  They should be safely strapped into the rollercoaster, not running on the track behind it hoping to keep up.  However, some suspense and mystery is good, if that’s the type of book you’re writing.  It is okay to keep some things secret, but it is not necessary.  If your readers know something that your characters don’t, that’s called Dramatic Irony.  It’s a thing.  Work with it.  Or don’t.

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

Vonnegut was a fantastic writer, may he rest in peace, and I think his advice is great.  But, as this is my blog, I do believe I should start working on my own comprehensive list of this sort.  So maybe I’ll whip one up and make that my next post.

Lastly, I think, was just a new comic.  So here you go.  Click to enlarge.

[Edit: I remembered what the last thing actually was!  I made a meme.  Ever heard of First World Problems?  Check it out.  I knew there was something I was forgetting.]

Word of the Day: Complement (v) – something that completes or makes perfect.



Filed under books, Comic, Grammar, Humor, writing

4 responses to “Random Advice and Stuff

  1. Sure, the random advice was terrific. But where was the STUFF?

    • Depends how you define “stuff.” It’s pretty broad. For me, it referred to anything that wasn’t covered by the “random advice” portion of the title – the cartoons and the comic, for example. But perhaps I was just saying my blog is the stuff of legends. Or the stuff of procrastination. Perhaps the titles of my posts weren’t meant to be overanalyzed. The world may never know.

      • I guess I was expecting baked goods or something.

        Darn it. I’m always misunderstanding things and causing trouble.

      • It happens to the best of us. Please know that the moment they figure out how to convert baked goods into binary and post them on the internet, I will be all over that. For now, though, I think Willy Wonka holds the monopoly on converting food to pixels. What a shame.

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