So It Goes. Kurt Vonnegut on Writing

There’s a syndrome that runs rampant with copywriters.

At some point, we decide that what we really want to be is authors. Sometimes it works – Andy Maslen isn’t doing too badly – and sometimes it crashes and burns because you realise that a book about Richie Edwards of the Manic Street Preachers faking his death to become a time-travelling detective is a stupid idea. (Mea culpa)

And once, just once, a copywriter becomes one of the best authors of the 21st Century.

That man was Kurt Vonnegut.

In his short story collection Bagombo Snuff Box he laid out eight rules for writing fiction.

Turns out they’re great rules for writing marketing copy too. Except number six.That one doesn’t apply at all.

Here they are. For your delectation.

Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 Rules for Writing

Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

Damn right. That means no three page “About Us” section in which you blow your own trumpet with a sad, desperate toot.

Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

In your copy, that needs to be the reader. If they view themselves as part of the story, they’ll be very excited when they learn that your product will make them a hero.

Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.”

And if your reader’s the main character, then you need to know what they want. That’s what you’re selling to them.

Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.”

No superfluous words please. And keep the trumpet stowed away.

Start as close to the end as possible.

Especially with a “brand story.” Nobody cares about my paper round when I was 12, so it’s not in my About Us page. Same goes for my clients’ sites. We start with the things that interest the reader.

Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

Avoid this one. Not every rule applies. So it goes.

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.”

And that one person needs to be the end customer, not the person paying for the copy.

Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.”

Suspense is even more pointless in sales copy. The client instantly needs to know that you’re going to help them if they phone/email/drop in. Make it clear. Fast.

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