Two weeks ago, we offered three of our home-grown tips for writing a best-selling business fable. This week, we’ll continue the topic by bringing you some wisdom from classic fiction writer Kurt Vonnegut. (Think Cat’s Cradle and Slaughterhouse-Five.) In his book Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction, Vonnegut shares eight rules for writing fiction. Here are three of our favorite, which can help you continue to craft a business fable worthy of the best-sellers list.
Vonnegut’s Tip #3: “Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.”
Conflict drives stories. So ask yourself, what is the main problem that drives your fable and how will it ultimately be resolved? No one wants to read a book about a person having a picnic on a clear-skied day. But give your character a challenge to overcome, and you’ve got something to keep your audience’s interest. Add rain, wind or hail—add ants or a swarm of bees—and then your main character has a challenge to beat, while your book’s audience has a reason to read on. Give your characters a conflict to overcome—even if it is finding a glass of water—and readers will have a reason to stay with your story.
Vonnegut’s Tip #2: “Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.”
Great stories have villains and foes, but your fable also needs a leading character that readers can root for. This will give your audience a reason to care and a reason to stay invested in your story. The conflict itself (à la the quest for a glass of water) will provide fodder for your readers to care and root for a character. But the conflict alone will not be enough; the character also needs to be likable in some way. Giving your lead character quirks and idiosyncrasies will make her more realistic and relatable. Your readers aren’t perfect and they don’t want the characters in the books they read to be perfect either. When crafting your business fable, find ways to make your main character likable but realistic.
Vonnegut’s Tip #4: “Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.”
As the fable’s creator, you may have a vision for every detail and every event in the story’s unfolding and back story. The more detail you have about your characters and the events that shape them, the richer your story can become. Yet, readers do not need you to spell out every single detail—only those that matter. Once you have written the first draft of your fable, go back and reread it. Is all of the material you included needed? If a sentence does not reveal something relevant about one of your characters or does not help the drama of the story progress, delete it or revise it so that it does. Readers will stay with your fable—and recommend it to others—if you make every sentence count.