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“Advice on the Art of Writing Short Stories” — Roberto Bolaño

Originally published in World Literature Today. Images via Defining Myself Secondhand.

30 Comments

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  2. Ardin Lalui

    I’ll start with point 12 and read some Raymond Carver before writing a short story for a contest coming up at Narrative.

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  3. Cliff

    I’m no author, but is this advice on writing short stories, or just one tip broken into three pieces, followed by nine hipsteresque bullets of name dropping?

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    • Cliff, I think Bolaño is, as always, being a bit tongue in cheek here. I think the advice is genuine — he’s basically saying, look, you’ve got to read the greats if you want to be a good writer — and then he rambles through a list of semi-obscure writers, then delivers a punchline (Poe is more than enough) and then ends with another punchline (Checkov and Carver). I read the piece as humorous, not really a “how to write” kind of thing…

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  4. Natalie

    This is terrible advice. This is how Bolano should write short stories. I don’t need some gatekeeper philosophy to sully what should come natural. Sure, study and discover, but these rules are weak and meant to be broken at best.

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    • Natalie, you do get that this is a humorous piece, right? Do you really think that Bolaño is (was) trying to posit himself as a gatekeeper? And do you really think that there’s anything “natural” about constructing a piece of fiction? Do you think that Poe or Carver or Chekov (or Hempl or Davis or Wallace or Cooper or etc.) just “naturally” compose short stories? Also, you do realize that the word “rules” doesn’t occur anywhere in the piece, right? That, this is “advice,” freely given? In all earnestness, what advice would you give to writers? Perhaps you could offer some writers to read? Or perhaps you could tell us what stories you’ve published . . .

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  5. jake

    Biblioklept, there is perhaps nothing so natural for a human being as the construction of fiction – it is the entirety of our genius, what allows us to make and justify choices, to predict future outcomes, and to communicate.

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    • Jake, imagination and the imaginative capacity to make decisions, predict outcomes, etc. is hardly the same thing as writing a short story.

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  8. I looked up Horacio Quiroga because of this, and he’s pretty good! Looking forward to the other obscure Latin Americans on the list, tongue-in-cheek or not. Also, I HIGHLY recommend Borges to round out your palette if you’re into Carver, Chekhov and Poe.

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  9. Arturo

    I didn’t find this because I typed in “advice on how to write short stories”. But perhaps if I was the kind of person who would do such a thing I would be frustrated too. This is a poem.

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  10. dorothyanneb

    I love the idea of writing several short stories at once, but never two as that leads to despair. So (unfortunately) true! Made me smile throughout, especially on the roundabouts about Poe and Chekhov and Chandler. Quick spins about. Must print off for my writing wall (very similar to a wailing wall, though not THE Wailing Wall as that would imply I do not take the concept seriously). I just wail a lot when I’m writing. Maybe it’s because I’m working on two short stories….

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  11. Kwan Yin

    Don’t you get it? Bolano is making fun of the whole project of giving advice on the writing of short stories.

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