Brain Pickings and Kurt Vonnegut

Today I was sent a link to this site Brain Pickings the brainchild of Maria Popova, who describes it in this way: ‘Brain Pickings is a human-powered discovery engine for interestingness, culling and curating cross-disciplinary curiosity-quenchers, and separating the signal from the noise to bring you things you didn’t know you were interested in until you are.’

One of the things it is focussing on this year is Reading More and Writing Better and I was browsing through the various posts on this (each one of them worth a look). Then I came across one of the pieces of writing advice offered by Kurt Vonnegut and it is so simple but so true that I thought I would reproduce it here.

I have just finished reading a book which has been written to wide acclaim and I was puzzled by my reaction to it. The writing was word perfect, unusual even, the phrasing beautiful and the storyline held my attention. But, at the end of it I felt nothing. I did not feel, as I often would, saddened on reaching the end of the book; I do not imagine I will read another by this particular author. The sole reason for this is that I did not like any of the characters. Those that I assume I was meant to feel some measure of empathy with I did not. None of them took me with them; I was not, in the words of Kurt Vonnegut, rooting for them. Quite frankly I was left feeling I did not give a damn about what happened to any of them. If the book had ended in a nuclear holocaust or with a catastrophic invasion of flesh eating zombies I would have closed it without a moment’s regret.

I can only hope that nothing I write ever leaves a reader feeling that. If it does I will feel that I have failed.

Here are the rest of his tips, courtesy Huffington Post

4 responses to “Brain Pickings and Kurt Vonnegut

  1. Great quotes. Don’t know that I agree with item 8, but that’s okay. Yes, I have read books where I didn’t really care about the main characters. It’s something that I discovered in one of my early stories – my main character was so unsympathetic that my writing group didn’t like her at all and didn’t care what happened to her. Good lesson!

  2. Yup, number 8 is a little dodgy alright! But that thing about a character you can relate to and root for and actually like is so central and so simple! In your early story that you mention it highlights another thing, the value of a good writing group – so important.

  3. I heartily agree, especially with your highlighted point. It’s not as simple as liking the character – I have read books where I didn’t like anyone much, but someone’s trajectory still gripped me. But I also recently read a v. acclaimed novel by a V. acclaimed author and felt equally flat because the character’s were all just… petty, or unappealing

    • Yup Bridget, because you can have a pretty nasty character but still want to know where he or she is going. But when you just don’t care, then something is fundamentally wrong. I wonder if we read the same book, because the words ‘petty and unappealing’ would sum up what I felt about the ones I was referring to??

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