Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Roberto Bolaño's Advice on Writing Short Stories

I am very busy busy busy at the office today, which means I have only enough time for this lame hit-and-run post. But still! Better than nothing! Maybe!

Here, for your amusement and edumacation, is advice on writing short stories, from the late Roberto Bolaño. Number 9 is worth quoting.

Also! I steal a moment from my corporate masters to add my own advice on writing, FWIW:

1: Make your protagonist as uncomfortable as you can. Physically, emotionally, spiritually, whatever. Make him so uncomfortable that he thinks he's going to splinter into a million pieces if something doesn't change. Keep him in that state until the end of the story.

2: Present your protagonist with something that looks like it will end his discomfort. Keep it just out of his reach.

3: When your protagonist finally puts his hands on the item in Rule 2, he will find that it doesn't help. He becomes more uncomfortable.

4: Break something. Your protagonist's leg is good. Or his heart. Or his life. Keep at it. Break something else if you have time.

5: If you look closely, you'll see that those familiar objects all around your protagonist are not what we thought they were.

These suggestions work for any sort of fiction, including introspective literature. Honest.


  1. I suddenly feel good about having about three dozen open short story projects.

  2. When Nevets feels good, we all should feel good.

  3. That's an interesting last point, Scott. I will reflect on that. I took a peek at Bolano's list too. I like the big numbers.

  4. Big D: Push things into focus; if not for the characters, then at least for the reader. I like Bolaño's big numbers, too. I want immense chapter numbers in all of my novels.

  5. I have nothing to add to this discussion, but I'll add it anyway.

  6. Well and succinctly said points, Mr. Bailey.

    With Pee Domey, I'll have to cogitate on the last one. It's a a very valid point, but I don't immediately know if I've done that or not. *think think think*

  7. And there are a whole lot of ways to take your response to my initial comment, but since I feel good, I'll smile and give a thumbs up.

  8. Tara: Is "thanks for nothing" the correct response to your null addition? I'm not sure what the proper etiquette is.

    Nevets: It's possible that I don't remember what I was thinking when I wrote #5. It sounds profounder than it likely is. Or isn't. Mostly, possibly, it's "Who's to say Quixote wasn't the only man in Spain who was not blind?" Or possibly I mean something else. Hey, work beckons.

  9. your rule #2 (and #4) are brilliant, and evil, and just what i need to do in my writing, if i were to get around to it.

    i loved bolano's list until the end. another raymond carver shout-out? feh.

  10. I'll eat some curry and keep thinking.

  11. I don't think I ever told you this, Scott, but I have had those Rules of Yours printed up and hanging right by my computer ever since you put them up on your other blog. I kept looking at them the whole time I wrote Cinders. :)

    You're a genius, Mr. Bailey.

  12. Bookfraud: What's wrong with Carver? Have you read his story about the death of Chekhov? I think that's really what Bolaño is going after (a joke, that is).

    Nevets: How was the curry?

    Michelle: "Cinders" would be a fine book even if you had never read a word of my advice. But I am pleased and embarrassed. And I can't wait to finish the book. Why don't I have endless time every day?

  13. Scott: Yes, I'm sure it would be fine without your advice, but I'll tell you right now that your rules made writing some parts MUCH, MUCH easier. They are very logical and straightforward and broad enough to allow leeway. Just the kind of "rules" I like. :)

    I hope you can finish soon, too! You need like 3 weeks of nothing to do. You've been way too busy and it makes me sad. :(

  14. The curry was a fair approximation of an Indiana dry yellow curry. Worked out pretty well.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.