Wednesday, June 20, 2012

'My Kurt Vonnegut Experiment': An Explanation

Every once in a while, when the creative well is running dry and the voices in my head are quiet, I like to give myself writing exercises. Many established writers will tell you that writing is a muscle, and if you don't work it out, it turns to useless fat. Today, I'm posting a creative writing exercise that I wrote a couple of years ago. The working title is simply 'My Kurt Vonnegut Experiment', and is meant to be a stand-alone piece, though I may build it into a full-on story in the future.

Having taken several creative writing workshops throughout my college and university education, I have many exercises to pull out of my back pocket if I'm looking for inspiration. Sometimes I like to just start with a specific opening line and go from there. Sometimes I'll think of an object and write a paragraph or two surrounding that object. Sometimes it just starts with a character quirk. The toughest part is always getting started. I find that as soon as I have the first few lines written, the rest comes naturally.

Another exercise I like to use is I'll choose a writer that I admire, and attempt to channel their spirit and write in their style. My intent is never to copy their prose, plagiarize, or become known for a voice that isn't mine. I just figure that if I can write like the writers that I love, even just a paragraph or two, then I'm one step closer to establishing my own voice as a writer. Eventually, my hope is that readers will be able to tell where my inspiration comes from, while also instantly recognizing my writing as my own.

In the case of 'My Kurt Vonnegut Experiment', I had been reading his classic novel Cat's Cradle, so his voice was clear in my head at the time. I've read a total of six Vonnegut novels (Slaughterhouse-Five, Cat's Cradle, The Sirens of Titan, Hocus Pocus, A Man Without a Country, and Look at the Birdie), and one of the main qualities that all of his novels seem to have is absolutely exceptional characterization. I'm in awe of the man's ability to describe everything you need to know about a character within two or three descriptive lines. Vonnegut had many impressive talents as a writer, but the aspect of his writing that I always look forward to when I crack open one of his books are the anecdotes and character descriptions. This is a man who spent his whole life studying and satirizing the human race. Where some writers would just say: 'He has brown hair and a tan', Vonnegut would cook up a hilarious reason for why he has a tan.

So, regarding 'My Kurt Vonnegut Experiment', my focus is not on the narrator at all. His character is meant to remain a mystery, but I want the reader to feel like they know quite a bit about the characters that the narrator is describing. This was very fun to write, and hopefully just as fun to read. If I ever develop this into more than a short-short, I'll be sure to share what I come up with. Don't think of it as a rip-off, think of it as an homage. Enjoy!

1 comment:

  1. Vonnegut’s zany and surreal world reflects the absurdity of our own and really bended my mind to different modes of thinking. His work has inspired my own visual arts for quite some time and I created a tribute illustration of the author with the help of an old typewriter. You can see it at and tell me how his work and words also affected you.