Tag Archives: Kurt Vonnegut

Strange Times and Weird Holidays

 

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Billy Pilgrim came for Thanksgiving then swiftly became unstuck in time. He travelled onward… or back.

Those of you who remember Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five know that when time came unstuck for Billy, he could spring forward to a happier place or he could fall back to appalling happenstance, like the bombing of Dresden during World War II. Billy had no say when it came to the matter of time. We, however, have a modicum of control over ours.

We even time travel- to an extent, not physically like Billy, but we can remember… relive what that shiny red bike looked like on that best Christmas ever, recall what it felt like to hold a newborn. We think ahead, hope for better, and manifest our dreams. The Pilgrim within gets to choose where we travel. We don’t have to visit any of the ugly stuff, past present or future if we don’t want to.

In one of my favorite parts of Slaughterhouse-Five, Billy’s fiancé flashed her diamond ring at Mr. Rosewater, “Billy got it in the war,” she beamed. Did she know that the gem came from rubble which once was Dresden; the rock was a spoil of war? To her it was a symbol of love, her dream of upcoming happiness, her time travel forward.

Mr. Rosewater’s reply could not have been challenged, “That’s the wonderful thing about war. Everybody gets something.” I get it, Mr. Rosewater. Some people get diamonds and others get dead.

Without understating the sufferings of war by comparing them to holidays, I have to admit that similarities do exist… especially this particular Holiday Season.

And as I travel back to our family holidays, they were like a series of tiny Napoleonic battles. We shouted, pounded on tables, about politics, social issues… religion, we dug up past resentments… said hurtful words. There is no doubt that we loved each other, we loved each other like mad, but with the collective holiday anger of my crazy family? Unite us, add one case of brandy, a few bottles of Ouzo and we could have invaded Canada.

That’s the thing about holidays, everybody gets something. Some get arguments and some get loved, some get the Lexus and some stand in line for a meal. Some children get a bike and others get shot.

So as the month of gratitude gives way to peppermint truffles and decadence I will live my moments more deliberately, select my thoughts carefully, choose the kindest words possible when speaking about our world as it is. And with my memories, I guess, I’ll be selective. After all, those impetuous relatives are sorely missed now. So it goes.

I look forward with hopefulness, to a time when peace on planet earth is achievable. I’ll dream that everyone everywhere has food, clothing and shelter. I’ll imagine that it’s so. And I will accept what I get this year (thank you very much for the lovely brown socks) with grace.

I hope for patience and tolerance from all of the people I love. No gifts for me this year, there’s nothing I need, except one favor from all. I need an advance on forgiveness, like a caveat, a hall pass or a ‘get out of jail free’ card. Those will do very well for me, please. Because I, like Billy Pilgrim, have a history… and probably even a genetic pre-disposition to becoming unstuck… just a little.

Happy Holidays to everyone.

Enjoy Christmas present.

Take time for love!

Slaughterhousefive

And maybe re-read an old favorite,

 

Jonna

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Rules for Writing Fiction by Pat Bertram

Elmore Leonard used ten rules to help him remain invisible while writing fiction.

1. Never open a book with weather.

2. Avoid prologues.

3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.

4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said” . . .

5. Keep your exclamation points under control.

6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”

7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.

8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.

9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.

10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

His most important rule is one that sums up the 10: If it sounds like writing, rewrite it.

Kurt Vonnegut had 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.

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. Now 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.

Somerset Maugham said “there are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately no one knows what they are.”

I have but a single rule: Everything in service to the story. If something doesn’t advance the story, develop the characters, give information necessary to understand the stakes of the story, then it doesn’t belong. This rule is especially important in this anything-goes publishing world, where people dash off novels in weeks to sell on Amazon. Atrocious writing, an intrusive number of typos, or a decided lack of story telling skills are not in service to the story, and need to be remedied.

Whether we adhere to rules or not, certain aspects of writing fiction are important. You need a beginning that hooks people, a middle that makes them want to keep reading, and an ending that satisfies. The writing has to be comprehensible. No reader wants to read the same sentence over and over again, trying to make sense of it. They want to find out what happens to the character. Most of all, you must have a character who wants something desperately enough to drive the action of the story. Even if the character is unwilling to take action at the beginning, somewhere along the line she needs to take things into her own hands. A character who is unwilling to participant in her own story gets boring after awhile, and no matter how things change, that first commandment of writing will always hold true — though shalt not bore thy reader.

So, what are the rules of your game? What traditional rules do you follow? What rules do you make up? If you create your own rules, how do you make your story work?

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Pat Bertram is the author of Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. All Bertram’s books are available both in print and in ebook format. You can get them online at Second Wind Publishing, Amazon, B&N and Smashwords. At Smashwords, the books are available in all ebook formats including palm reading devices, and you can download the first 20-30% free!

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