For what it's worth, when you read Vonnegut, you're getting the real Vonnegut. He put his heart into his writings, leaving all of us (and future generations) the richer for it.
I always felt like Kurt Vonnegut and Mark Twain were cut from the same cloth, but my impression was that Vonnegut was a bit too cynical (perhaps for perfectly understandable reasons) and his writing was less cynical than his person, whereas Twain came across as more WYSIWYG. It's nice to hear that his 'quirky, avuncular' side was very present in-person.
His worst are probably Slapstick and Timequake, and the latter's so full of references to his earlier works that you wouldn't want to make it an early read regardless.
The short fiction/non-fic collections published during his lifetime are generally great. Big exception for A Man Without a Country which was pretty mediocre overall. Anything posthumous is suspect and should be deferred until you've worked through the earlier stuff, if not avoided entirely. Not that there's nothing good in there, it's just that the average quality is way lower.
Personal favorites of mine that don't generally make best-of lists are Deadeye Dick and Bluebeard. If you're reading him for the sci-fi connection rather than as general fiction, you want the Big Two plus Sirens of Titan (which would probably be #4 in a "big four" as far as importance-to-have-read) mainly.
I'd personally start with Cat's Cradle over Slaughterhouse Five. Deadeye Dick is strange and hilarious, but probably better after reading a few of his books first. :)
Probably true about Bluebeard, too. Both read almost as a review of the major themes and messages of Vonnegut's work, though Bluebeard more so than Deadeye Dick.
It's a very Vonnegut book, and a great gateway to the rest of his writing.
Both Cat's Cradle and Sirens of Titan I thought were great.
"Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell."
Of course that just is an introduction. The books goes on with many guidelines and lots of examples that really made it sink in for me.
I'd like to see a return to the sub-200 page novel. Nice quick reads, one-shot stories, for when you tire of yet another 10 book epic.
I've heard it said now, that Publishers won't even consider your manuscript unless you've already got another two completed sequels in your back pocket. It's all about the money.
> Searching memory might be compared to throwing the beam of a strong light, from your hilltop campsite, back over the road you traveled by day. Only a few of the objects you passed are clearly illuminated; countless others are hidden behind them, screened from the rays. There is bound to be some vagueness and distortion in the distance. But memory has advantages that compensate for its failings. By eliminating detail, it clarifies the picture as a whole. Like an artist's brush it finds higher value in life’s essence than in its photographic intricacy.
I can flip to any page and find a sentence or two that I've underlined for being as well written as the page above.
Maybe that's a byproduct of living an exciting life, but to me, it represents someone who pauses and observes, taking countless mental notes in everyday life, considering things with an open mind from all angles. Then, most importantly, practice communicating all of this. Nobody is born a good writer/speaker, like most things, it's just a lot of work.
Also, "have guts to cut" is great. Will hang on to that.
1. Strunk & White got it right when they declared: "Good writing is done with verbs and nouns; bad writing is done with adjectives." That is timeless advice. It's inevitable, in our first drafts, that we sketch out our ideas with flabby verbs and then rely on gaudy adjectives to convey energy and conviction. Find the right verb -- usually in the course of editing our own work -- and both problems fix themselves. Overwrought adjectives vanish; better verbs command the show.
2. Omit needless words. This is wiser advice than it seems. If we write first drafts in conversational English -- or corporate English -- we're likely to pad out our sentences with many empty words. Conversational English pelts our writing with "very," "that," "really," "literally," "in order to" and so on. Corporate English loads us up with "systems," "process," "viable," and so on.
If we tried to be as concise as possible in our first drafts, we'd spend all day working on two sentences. Write fast, in whatever dialect of English comes most naturally. Get a first version visible in some kind of form. Then take time to fix it.
Kurt Vonnegut: “How To Write With Style”
Bill Cosby (before he became a TV sitcom superstar): “How To Read Faster”
Malcolm Forbes: “How To Write a Business Letter"
Walter Cronkite: “How To Read A Newspaper”
And George Plimpton: “How To Make a Speech,” among others.
and of course if you love Cormac McCarthy (as I do) no rules appear to apply.
I had never heard of Vonnegut before this. Suggestion for a good book by him to start with?
By the way, the Keys to Great Writing is an awesome book. It has made me critique everything I write, in a good way. I even thought twice before submitting this comment.
UPDATE 2: Fix: Use the verb critique rather than critic (one who does that).
In my opinion more and more is done with money in mind. And the results suck. And not only does it suck for the users but also for producers because in the end it will eat on them.
Maybe all the advice could be summed up as: be human in what you do.
It is full of practical advice. I've read a lot of amateur (students/hobbyists) writing, so I can say his advice addresses a lot of common mistakes.