Writing tips from Kurt Vonnegut post-01

Kurt Vonnegut’s Rules of Storytelling

If you have an eight-year old, or know an eight-year old, you know that great storytelling doesn’t come naturally. It’s learned. “What did you do at school today?”

We read … and then … played … and then … johnny said … and then … the teacher said … and then … so I said … and then …

Perhaps this is an overly harsh critique of an eight-year old’s presentation skills or storytelling technique, but they’re not exactly Hemingway, or Vonnegut. You would not see run on sentences and dialog joined together by a string of ” … and then’s” by these masters of prose.

For the over-eight crowd of business professionals, educators, executives and entrepreneurs, who I assume read this blog, it’s instructive to look at the principles used by authorities in different fields to apply their craft. Those rules of thumb, like Pixar’s rules of Storytelling, can teach you how to write better emails or reports, build decks and make visual arguments, present better and craft more powerful stories to sell your ideas.

Kurt Vonnegut was one such authority. An infantryman during World War II, his experiences at the battle of the bulge and during the firebombing of Dresden served as background for his novel Slaughterhouse Five. He’s known as one of the great American writers of the 20th Century. In later years, he frequently spoke about his ideas on writing. He distilled those in an essay, How to write with style, first published in 1985.

Those writing tips apply today. Not just to novelists, but to business. They don’t just apply to writing, but to presenting and public speaking.


If you have a presentation, finding a subject you care about, not rambling, keeping it simple, editing, being authentic, and saying what you mean to say are pretty good tips.

Gavin_Animated-GifGavin is a founding partner at fassforward consulting group. He blogs about PowerPoint, Presenting, Communication and Message Discipline at makeapowerfulpoint.com. You can follow him on twitter @powerfulpoint.

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