Probably the best lecture I’ve ever seen on story, Kurt Vonnegut lays out the arc of the Hero’s Journey in it’s most elegant form (see video for the joke). In truth, Vonnegut is a hilarious man who knows the craft so well he’s able to entertain and enlighten the audience by poking fun at how obvious stories are. Good story structure doesn’t need much explanation. Stories are simple.
A wise man once told me that a story is never complex. No matter how deep and complex something may seem, 99 times out of 100 it’s just a series of simple points you’ve experienced since the start of the tale. The art of the craft is making those points tie together in such a way that your story seems complex. And it is, in a way, but not by making each story beat circuitous.
All the rules I’ve ever heard from Vonnegut are pure and simple. Take his eight tips on how to write a good short story:
- Use a time of a total stranger in such a way that he/she will not feel the time was wasted.
- Give the reader at least one character they can root for.
- Every character should want something, even if it only a glass of water.
- Every sentence must do one of two things: reveal character, or advance the action.
- Start as close to the end as possible.
- Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading character is, make awful things happen to them in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
- 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.
- Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense! Readers should have as such complete understand of what is going on, where and why, that they should be able to complete the story themselves should cockroaches eat the last few pages.