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Kurt Vonnegut On the Most Popular and Most Truthful Stories in the World

The engineering-trained novelist (and City News Bureau vet) explains the structure of great narratives. Plus: other outstanding novelists to come out of the sciences.

This weekend I was talking with a PhD student in English, who studies and teaches at a university that attracts a lot of science and math wonks, about good fiction for people who are geeks in things other than literature. This talk reminded me that Kurt Vonnegut, who studied engineering and worked as a technical writer for GE after his brief stint at the legendary City News Bureau, is a good choice (via Coudal).

Lapham’s Quarterly has a transcript of the full talk: “The truth is, we know so little about life, we don’t really know what the good news is and what the bad news is.”

A couple of other writers came to mind as well. Speaking of plot structures, Richard Powers, an Evanston native, UIUC prof and computer programmer turned novelist:

Richard Powers, whose books are often concept-driven, intricately plotted and stuffed with arcane science, wrote his last three novels while lying in bed, speaking to a lap-top computer with voice-recognition software.

Or south-side native George Saunders, a former geophysical engineer and technical writer:

[Engineering gave me] two things: one thing, in terms of the language, I have a real dislike for any kind of “literary” language: language that’s consciously literary or purple of overly rich or full of kind of cornball metaphors. I really like lean prose, stuff that just does what it’s supposed to do and gets out of there. At least that’s the baseline position. So if I get even a little bit metaphorical I feel like I’m out on a limb. And the other thing, because of the engineering choice, I was in a lot of places that were probably not typical.

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