4 Short Story Writing Lessons from Latin American Authors

1. Embodiment of a timeless theme, not dependent on social context (“Hahn’s Pentagon” by Osman Lins)

In The Oxford Book of Latin American Short Stories Roberto González Echevarría, declares the theme of “Hahn’s Pentagon” to readers, “The central figure, Hahn, is a circus elephant who seems to embody the innocence of childhood and the melancholy that remains when it vanishes.”

2. Focus on desires, fears, dreams, and anxieties: “The Garden of Forking Paths” by Jorge Luis Borges

This story may remind you of your own dreams. Next time you wake, try to recall your dreams. You may be surprised that the illogical narrative didn’t stir you from your sleep. This dreamlike unbelievable believability will gnaw at readers of “The Garden of Forking Paths” by Jorge Luis Borges.

3. Use of archetypal characters: “The Clearing” by Luisa Mercedes Levinson

Only four characters appear in this very short story. First, don Alcibiades, probably named after the treacherous ancient statesman, who represents the archetypal bad guy. He lies, he deceives, he kills, and he has a power that makes him unsympathetic. In a cartoon, he would be the wicked villain twisting his mustache as the train is about to run over the damsel in distress tied to the tracks. Second, a damsel in distress, so simple that she goes without a name. She is not quite tied to the tracks, instead she is eventually tied to her hammock where she will die and in a broader sense, she is trapped in the clearing with don Alcibiades. Her white knight is Ciro, a working-class man, loved and then lost when murdered at the hands of don Alcibiades. And finally, a character readers tend to forget until he reappears in the last line of the story, the self-described, “I, the poor message-runner,” who wanders into the clearing to find the set of dead bodies and tell their story. He is an extremely distant observer, (he disappears for the course of the entire story) unlike the more complex observers of novels such as The Great Gatsby’s Nick Carraway.

4. Dependence on craftsmanship: “The Photograph” by Enrique Amorim

In just three pages, Amorim packs a memorable tale that guides the reader to an indirect conclusion about the main character and a more direct lesson about the nature of life. To be effective in limited space, a short story must be, “more dependent on craftsmanship and exhibit more authorial control than novels,” as Charles E. May explained.


Now it’s time to close the web browser, app, whatever you use to read this article and write your own story. Consider your story concept first. How can it embody a timeless theme, like “Hahn’s Pentagon”? What will you do to focus the stories on fears, dreams, desires, and anxieties like “The Garden of Forking Paths”? Then, move on to your characters. Who will you create to serve as your archetypal characters? Finally, rewrite your story with care and authorial control of a short story craftsman.



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Brendan Carr

Brendan Carr

Brendan Carr interviews bestselling authors and military leaders, then writes about it here on Medium. https://youtube.com/c/brendancarrofficial