Anton Chekhov on Writing

In my “in progress” novel Cora’s Cry for Help Lieutenant Detective Alice Vireo has this to say about her mother:

My mother is sixty-two. She was born in Yalta not far from the vineyards where Anton Chekhov lived out his last years. Even though Chekhov died half a century before my mother was born she speaks of him as if he was her next door neighbor. Of how he’d married the actress Olga Knipper who performed in his plays, implying that had she been living at the same time he surely would have married her instead.

File:Chekhov's House at Yalta, 1899.jpeg’s_House_at_Yalta,_1899.jpeg

Google Anton Chekhov and you’ll find About 1,450,000 results.

Through some miracle I found an article titled Anton Chekhov on Writing from Brent Spencer’s Nebraska Center for Writers.

Because of the length of the article I’ve broken it down into two parts. This, obviously is part 1:


My own experience is that once a story has been written, one has to cross out the beginning and the end. It is there that we authors do most of our lying.

When you describe the miserable and unfortunate, and want to make the reader feel pity, try to be somewhat colder — that seems to give a kind of background to another’s grief, against which it stands out more clearly. Whereas in your story the characters cry and you sigh. Yes, be more cold. … The more objective you are, the stronger will be the impression you make. — To Lydia Avilova, March 19, 1892 & April 29, 1892

If there is a gun hanging on the wall in the first act, it must fire in the last.

… only he is an emancipated thinker who is not afraid to write foolish things.

I think descriptions of nature should be very short and always be à propos. Commonplaces like “The setting sun, sinking into the waves of the darkening sea, cast its purple gold rays, etc,” “Swallows, flitting over the surface of the water, twittered gaily” — eliminate such commonplaces. You have to choose small details in describing nature, grouping them in such a way that if you close your eyes after reading it you can picture the whole thing. For example, you’ll get a picture of a moonlit night if you write that on the dam of the mill a piece of broken bottle flashed like a bright star and the black shadow of a dog or a wolf rolled by like a ball, etc. … In the realm of psychology you also need details. God preserve you from commonplaces. Best of all, shun all descriptions of the characters’ spiritual state. You must try to have that state emerge clearly from their actions. Don’t try for too many characters. The center of gravity should reside in two: he and she. — To AP Chekhov, May 10, 1886

A writer is not a confectioner, a cosmetic dealer, or an entertainer. He is a man who has signed a contract with his conscience and his sense of duty.

I long to embrace, to include in my own short life, all that is accessible to man. I long to speak, to read, to wield a hammer in a great factory, to keep watch at sea, to plow. I want to be walking along the Nevsky Prospect, or in the open fields, or on the ocean — wherever my imagination ranges. — Anton Chekhov

When you fashion a story you necessarily concern yourself with its limits: out of slew of main and secondary characters you choose only one — the wife or the husband — place him against the background and describe him alone and therefore also emphasize him, while you scatter the others in the background like small change, and you get something like the night sky: a single large moon and a slew of very small stars. But the moon doesn’t turn out right because you can see it only when the other stars are visible too, but the stars aren’t set off. So I turn out a sort of patchwork quilt rather than literature. What can I do? I simply don’t know. I will simply depend on all-healing time. — To Alexei Suvorin, October 27, 1888

Stay tuned for part two.

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