Horacio Quiroga’s Ten Rules For Writing A Perfect Short Story

Horacio Quiroga’s Ten Rules For Writing A Short Story

Horacio Quiroga (1878-1937) was an Uruguayan poet, playwright, and short story writer.  He is considered to be one of the best Latin American short story writers of all time.  His stories like “The Decapitated Chicken” and “The Son,” are deliciously bizarre and really grip the reader.  He accomplishes a lot using very few words and his stories haunt readers for a long time.



He wrote a “Manual del perfecto cuentista,” or “the manual for a perfect storyteller.”  It contains ten rules that, according to Quiroga, a writer should follow to write the perfect short story. The first are a bit general, but the rest are very specific.   Here is my translation:


  1. Believe in a master- Poe, Maupassant, Kipling, Chekov- as in God himself.
  2. Believe that your art is an unreachable summit.  Don’t dream of dominating it.  Once you can achieve it, you will be able to write the perfect short story it without thinking about it.
  3. Resist imitation if possible; but if the urge is too great, imitate.  More than anything, developing a personal voice takes a lot of time and patience.
  4. Have blind faith in your capacity to succeed, or in your desire to achieve success.  Love your art like your girlfriend, giving it all your heart.
  5. Don’t begin to write without knowing where you are going from the first word.  In a good short story, the first three lines are almost as important as the last three.
  6. If you want to express “a cold wind blew from the river,” write just that.  Once you have mastered the use of words, don’t worry whether they are consonant or assonant.
  7. Don’t add unnecessary adjectives.  Colorful words attached to a weak noun will be useless.  The correct noun will have incomparable color and brightness.  The trick is finding it.
  8. Take your characters by the hand and lead them firmly to the end, ignoring everything but the way you have plotted.  Don’t get distracted by seeing things that they cannot and care not to see.  Don’t abuse your reader.  A short story is not a miniature novel.  Hold this as an absolute truth, even though it isn’t.
  9. Do not write from under the power of your emotions.  Let the feeling die and evoke it later.  If you are able to conjure up the feeling again, you are halfway to mastering your art.
  10. Don’t think about your friends when you write or on the effect that your story may have.  Tell your story as if it only mattered to the confined world of your characters, of which you may be a part.  This is the only way to give your story life.