16 Rules for writing by Jorge Luis Borges
In one of their many collaborative endeavors, Jorge Luis Borges and Adolfo Bioy Casares planned to write a story with Silvina Ocampo set in France. The story never came to be, but what does survive from those days is Borges’ ironic list of 16 pieces of advice of what an author should NEVER put in a book:
In literature it is necessary to avoid:
- Non-conformist interpretations of famous personalities. For example, describing Don Juan’s misogyny, etc.
- Grossly dissimilar or contradictory twosomes like, for example, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, Sherlock Holmes and Watson.
- The habit of defining characters by their obsessions; like Dickens does, for example.
- In developing the plot, resorting to extravagant games with time and space in the manner of Faulkner, Borges, and Bioy Casares.
- In poetry, characters or situations with which the reader can identify.
- Characters prone to becoming myths.
- Phrases, scenes intentionally linked to a specific time or a specific epoch; in other words, local flavor.
- Chaotic enumeration.
- Metaphors in general, and visual metaphors in particular. Even more concretely, agricultural, naval or banking metaphors. Absolutely un-advisable example: Proust.
- The tailoring of novels with plots that are reminiscent of another book. For example, Ulysses by Joyce and Homer’s Odyssey.
- Writing books that resemble menus, albums, itineraries, or concerts.
- Anything that can be illustrated. Anything that may suggest the idea that it can be made into a movie.
- Critical essays, any historical or biographical reference. Always avoid allusions to authors’ personalities or private lives. Above all, avoid psychoanalysis.
- Domestic scenes in police novels; dramatic scenes in philosophical dialogues. And, finally:
- Avoid vanity, modesty, pederasty, lack of pederasty, suicide.
- Jorge Luis Borges On Writing Short Stories: El Zahir (lasesana.wordpress.com)
- Borges: A Life (stateofthebook.wordpress.com)