From the introduction to Bagombo Snuff Box (Vintage Books, Random House, 1999) this is Creative Writing 101, Kurt Vonnegut style (anyone out there -- if you know the correct pronunciation of this author's surname I'd be very greatful if you would tell me what it is. In the privacy of my inner ear, I pronounce it "VONN-I-GUT" to rhyme with BONNY NUT. However, a Dutch friend of mine confidently pronounced it FON-GOOT -- and I felt a deep uneasy stirring, because it seemed to me he had to be correct. Or ... ? Well, you tell me).
1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
4. Every sentence must do one of two things -- reveal character or advance the action.
5. Start as close to the end as possible.
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.
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.
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.
Then he adds:
The greatest American short story writer of my generation was Flannery O'Connor (1925-1964). She broke practically every one of my rules but the first. Great writers tend to do that.
I adore KV. Or his writing, anyway, having never met him. I think "Welcome to the Monkey House" is one of those short stories that should be compulsory reading for anyone who wants to pass the "Are You a Cool Human?" test.