Vonnegut is a master of revision. If you have not read Breakfast of Champions or Mother Night or any of his work, you should really start now. Vonnegut follows the European magical realists more so than the Latin American magical realists’ voices. One of the remarkable attributes in Vonnegut’s voice is precision.
Below is one of my favorite Vonnegut short stories and one of my favorite magical realist stories of any author and nationality. Some might place this story on the science fiction or fantasy side of the spectrum, but I would disagree. Because the setting and vehicles are so very focused on the social effects, not the technology or magic that creates the vehicles, this story falls solidly on the MR side for me. However this story reads for you, “Harrison Bergeron” gives us an excellent model for writing MR on a broader setting and social satire scale versus the more specific characterization and subtlety model we have been studying and writing thus far. Story below, under READING. Enjoy. Also, check out the “Write with Vonnegut” exercise for a fun writing prompt.
Revision by Kurt Vonnegut
- “Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted;”
- “Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for;”
- “Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water” (And that glass of water should be so necessary that the lack of it is painful, not merely an inconvenience.);
- “Every sentence must do one of two things–reveal character or advance the action” (I will extend this rule to every “important sentence” should do three things–reveal character, advance action, further complicate conflict. These “important sentences” should find placement in each paragraph. If an entire paragraph, or concept in characterization and/or setting, is not working on multiple layers of progression then that paragraph isn’t working hard enough.);
- “Start as close to the end as possible.” (Yes! Yes! “Begin at the point after which nothing else is ever the same,” Alice McDermott. This often means that we cut much of what our initial openings thought they wanted to be.);
- “Be a sadist.” (Yes! Yes! Do we want to read proper and appropriate? No. We want to experience a vicarious and familiar oddity in our stories. We want to know that we are not alone in our lesser selves and our vulnerabilities. Fiction is the best way for us to share this lesser and vulnerability in a safe space.);
- “Write to please just one person” (That is not you. That person is the piece of you who asks important questions in fearless ways.);
- “Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible” (Yes. Do not hold your readers at arm’s length. Give them the necessary information to ask the important questions they need to ask off the page).”
“Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut
Research and Submission Resources
Duotrope: Submissions Tracking (This resource is excellent for finding journals and anthologies interested in dark speculative narratives. Your particular voice will determine whether your narratives will be more suited toward literary journals open to character-based speculative or speculative journals open to narratives on a more diverse spectrum of genres and aesthetics. Before submitting to any publisher, make sure to read the journal first. Read several issues. Visit the site. Familiarize yourself thoroughly with the guidelines. Never submit to a journal or anthology edited by an editor you do not know or read. Submit to journals smartly, journals that reflect your aesthetics as they are, not what you want them to eventually be. If you have a favorite journal but aren’t sure if your aesthetic suits the journal yet, give your narrative time to grow and develop until it meets the standard of your reading. Then begin looking at the submission process.)
Publisher’s Marketplace: Publisher and Agent Research (Excellent for long work research and submission information–i.e. novels, novellas, collections, etc.)