Vonnegut’s Rule 2: Get Readers on Your Side

We’re on to Rule 2 of Kurt Vonnegut’s eight rules for writing a short story, which I’m tweaking to apply to your nonfiction memoirs.

Rule 2: Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

Since you’re the protagonist of your autobiography, I think this is an easy rule to follow! You probably are presenting yourself in a favorable light; I doubt that you’re writing an entire memoire from a self-loathing perspective. You’re a naturally sympathetic character!

But there’s still a writing lesson here. It has more to do with the way you should be building a little suspense. How do you get your readers to “root??? for you? Craft a narrative that maps out how you overcame adversity, reached a tough goal, triumphed over a rival or confronted a demon. Examples include conquering an addiction, repairing an important relationship or working to achieve a rags-to-riches fairytale. Any accomplishment that took a bit of blood, sweat and tears can work. Something as simple as winning a local sports events will be riveting if you write it with that “root for me??? approach in mind. So do not interpret this rule to mean that your autobiography should not reveal your flaws. In fact, the rule indicates quite the opposite: showing your darker side and your struggles, and then examining how you got through them and worked toward light, will have readers rooting for you all the way.