Writing Advice From Anton Chekhov: Part Three – Ambiguity


Anton Chekhov is held up as the paragon of Minimalism. To me Minimalism is another way of describing good writing. In fact, I once heard Minimalism called Essentialism. Everything in the text is essential to the text.

To include the unnecessary is therefore bad writing. This is more than in details given in scenery or physical descriptions, it also has to do with subject matter and theme. No one ever called Chekhov an activist writer. Such he would abhor. One of the greatest contributions Chekhov ever made to the realm of Creative Writing was perfecting and demonstrating the craft of Ambiguity. None achieved it better with the possible exception of Shakespeare.

The Unbiased Observer

It seems to me that the writer should not try to solve such ques­tions as those of God, pes­simism, etc. His busi­ness is but to describe those who have been speak­ing or think­ing about God and pes­simism, how and under what cir­cum­stances. The artist should be not the judge of his char­ac­ters and their con­ver­sa­tions, but only an unbi­ased observer.”

Chekhov does not use his prose to take a stand. Instead, he expertly raises questions he never answers. He has enough regard for the reader to handle that task. The manuscript serves to raise the questions of life and bring up the pros and the cons and give the reader something to think about. The reader can take what Chekhov raises and intelligently discuss such important and universal messages with others who have read Chekhov, even with those who have not.

The Proper Problem

You are right in demand­ing that an artist should take an intel­li­gent atti­tude to his work, but you con­fuse two things: solv­ing a prob­lem and stat­ing a prob­lem cor­rectly. It is only the sec­ond that is oblig­a­tory for the artist.”

When we speak of fiction, we are talking about Creative Writing, not Didactic Writing. If someone wants the answers to life, then they should turn to the essays written by philosophers. If they want the tools to hunt for the answers for themselves, let them pick up a volume of Chekhov, whether novel, short story, or play.

Chekhov understands the real secret of story-telling: there is only one story. The one story is what it means to be a human. We are all different, but our problems are the same, or difficulties are similar, and our struggles are universal. Chekhov masterly tells this one story over and over. The variation is merely the differences in plot, but in the end, they tell the same one story. And these variations of the one story perform the same task, asking questions without answering them.

Horse Thievery

You abuse me for objec­tiv­ity, call­ing it indif­fer­ence to good and evil, lack of ideas and ideals, and so on. You would have me, when I describe horse thieves, say: ‘Steal­ing horses is an evil.’ But that has been known for ages with­out my say­ing so. Let the jury judge them; it’s my job sim­ply to show what sort of peo­ple they are. I write: you are deal­ing with horse thieves, so let me tell you that they are not beg­gars but well-fed peo­ple, that they are peo­ple of a spe­cial cult, and that horse steal­ing is not sim­ply theft but pas­sion. Of course it would be pleas­ant to com­bine arrow t with a ser­mon, but for me per­son­ally it is impos­si­ble owing to the con­di­tions of tech­nique. You see, to depict horse thieves in 700 lines I must all the time speak and think in their tone and feel in their spirit. Oth­er­wise, the story will not be as com­pact as all short sto­ries out to be. When I write, I reckon entirely upon the reader to add for him­self the sub­jec­tive ele­ments that are lack­ing in the story.”

The end of this quote reminds me of Hemingway’s concept of story writing. He compared it to an iceberg. The words on the page are the visible part of the iceberg and the rest of the iceberg is the remainder of the story. The unseen part of the iceberg is the majority of the iceberg. So most of the story is actually unwritten by the author.

A great deal of this underwater iceberg portion of the story is the judgments one may make. You may recognize this quote by Chekhov. It is probably the most famous saying of his along with the moonlight quote used in an earlier part of this series. The conclusions are to be drawn by the reader, not the writer. Stated another way, it is not the job of the writer to answer the questions of life, but just ask them, as well as debate them with the use of narrative, dialogue, and all character interaction. It is the reader’s job to come up with the solutions regarding human existence.

Authors are neither preachers nor philosophers. Or, at least if they are elsewise, they do not practice this specialty while in the role of author. Now we all know that writers and readers. Not only that, but reading fuels our writing. In fact, I’m careful to watch what I read as I work on a project knowing it could color my text. My challenge to all the Creative Writers who are reading this is to get a hold of some stories by Chekhov. Try a novel, a short story, and a play for starters. Read one of each and look for this ambiguity. Look for ways you can use this to expert your writing. But don’t sell yourself short. You should also read Chekhov to look for the tools in answering the difficult questions of life. This is why he wrote in the first place. You will be a better person and a better writer.

Please Share this article with other Creative Writers you know. And feel free to make any Comments you wish in the section below.

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Guest Post On The Blogsite Helping Writers Become Authors

On Friday, August 15th, I was honored to have a guest post on K.M. Weiland’s site Helping Writers Become Authors.
Clink on the link to read the article, and while you’re there, look around and enjoy her website – dld.bz/dvHbk

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Writing Advice From Anton Chekhov: Part Two – Characters


The Hero’s Actions

In the sphere of psy­chol­ogy, details are also the thing. God pre­serve us from common­places. Best of all is to avoid depict­ing the hero’s state of mind; you ought to try to make it clear from the hero’s actions.”

When I first studied writing, one of my professor’s constant criticisms was that I needed to give all of my characters a quirk. That is advice I still offer today, but I didn’t take to it at first because I really didn’t understand it. I recall sitting in his office complaining that he wanted this guy to have an eye patch and that guy to have a false leg and that I didn’t want to write a bunch of pirate stories. It was there I began to learn about making characters as specific and individualistic as possible.

But these physical quirks were nothing if they had nothing to do with the character. The best way to make a character truly unique is by his actions. You find his worldview and his motivation so that you can wind him up and let him play. And if you do this effectively you will never need internal monologue to tell us what the person is thinking. We will know their mindset by their action.

Good Writing

You under­stand it at once when I say, ‘The man sat on the grass.’ You under­stand it because it is clear and makes no demands on the atten­tion. On the other hand it is not eas­ily under­stood if I write, ‘A tall, narrow-chested, middle-sized man, with a red beard, sat on the green grass, already tram­pled by pedes­tri­ans, sat silently, shyly, and timidly looked about him.’ That is not imme­di­ately grasped by the mind, whereas good writ­ing should be grasped at once—in a second.”

So if we need specific details to make characters as unique as possible, then the more details, the greater the specificity of the character, right? Wrong! Too many details muddle the image. Pretty soon you have so many details that you have none.

Not only to superfluous details of a character get in the way of seeing him for who he is, but it obscures whatever action he may engage. From Chekhov’s example just listed above, the point the writer needs to get across is that the man sat on the grass. To go into an array of specifics about the man and the grass get in the way of the fact that the man sat on the grass. Good fiction writing is wrapped up in action, not physical details.

The Writer As Chemist

That the world ‘swarms with male and female scum’ is per­fectly true. Human nature is imper­fect. But to think that the task of lit­er­a­ture is to gather the pure grain from the muck heap is to reject lit­er­a­ture itself. Artis­tic lit­er­a­ture is called so because it depicts life as it really is. Its aim is truth—unconditional and hon­est. A writer is not a con­fec­tioner, not a dealer in cos­met­ics, not an enter­tainer; he is a man bound under com­pul­sion, by the real­iza­tion of his duty and by his con­science. To a chemist, noth­ing on earth is unclean. A writer must be as objec­tive as a chemist.”

I lost the desire to make any character likable or unlikable quite a long time ago. When I learned to grey my characters, make neither white or back heroes and villains, I dropped the need to force them to be a certain way. Our good guy’s flatulence never smells like treacle just like our bad guy’s suffering can make us shed a tear.

So Chekhov’s notion of the writer as a chemist is a clear description of what our attitude towards our own characters should be. In the end it is not so much hero versus villain, good guy against bad guy, but protagonist and antagonist. These protagonists might do some vile things and these antagonists may seem perfectly justifiable. They are antagonists only that that they oppose the protagonist in getting what he wants.

Character development is one of the most difficult aspects of story writing simply because it is so involved. I will spend months plotting and outlining a novel before I begin a first draft, and most of that time is working on the uniqueness of my characters. Let’s face it, the most amazing of stories turns into a snooze fest if the actions of this tale are performed by flat characters. Chekhov’s advice helps me, and I hope I does you some good, as well.

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Firmament Is Now Available On Amazon & Kindle



Firmament is available now.

Love and strife are the two creative elements of the universe. We live day to day, but our existence progresses at great moments. These moments are those of great blessing, but also from terrible suffering. We chose to take the good and bad as each is a crossroads to improve or impair our lives.

Jack Johnson must learn the strain of maturity and responsibility as he approaches the most difficult decision he will ever face. It is the job of his mentor to guide him to this eventuality and make sure he is not distracted by his own selfish desires and appetites.

We all seek a life of peace, just like Jack Johnson. Sometimes rest only comes through struggle. But whatever peace or turmoil we may endure, it would be based upon the choices we would make raised into a grand confluence of all things, the time and chance that happens to everybody, somewhere high above the Firmament.

Purchase your copy now at this reduced rate. Be sure and secure your copy before the price goes up.





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Writing Advice From Anton Chekhov: Part One – Scenery

The five best writers who have ever lived (as I see things) are William Shakespeare, Homer, Anton Chekhov, James Joyce, and William Faulkner. To me, these men show the skill of excellent writing to a much more advanced degree than any others.

Now name three works of each of these men, two for Homer. I believe most people, especially those more bookish, could do that with four of the five men. But I fear that even well-read folk could not even name one work of Chekhov’s. I can’t explain why his catalogue is not more familiar, even though he has the name recognition. The next few articles will take quotes from some of his private correspondence, now published, and particularly his advice on writing. It has done me a world of good, and I hope every writer takes these things to heart.

The Unfired Gun

Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.”

Chekhov is classified as a Minimalist, and is an expert in that sphere. Along with Ernest Hemingway and Cormac McCarthy, Chekhov is one of my favorite minimalist writers.

I fear Minimalism has a bad reputation. It’s falsely thought of as being sparse. But the truth is all good writing is Minimal writing. Nothing goes into a story that does not belong. Anything else is purple prose, the darlings that must be murdered.

A True Description Of Nature

In my opin­ion a true descrip­tion of nature should be very brief and have the char­ac­ter of rel­e­vance. Com­mon­places such as ‘the set­ting sun bathed the waves of the dark­en­ing sea, poured its pur­ple gold, etc.’ — ‘the swal­lows fly­ing over the sur­face of the water tit­tered merrily’ — such com­mon­places one ought to aban­don. In descrip­tions of nature one ought to seize upon the lit­tle par­tic­u­lars, group­ing them in such a way that, in read­ing, when you shut your eyes you get the picture.”

Scenery and environment, along with weather, the layout of a room, the appearance of a house, may be seen vividly in the mind of the writer. There is the temptation to cheat and fill the text with descriptions of these details. Such writing becomes the dark and stormy night that is typical of bad writing.

Let your reader fill in as many blanks as possible when it comes to physical details. They want to anyway. And such unnecessary details when provided by the author become a literary Hamburger Helper there only to stretch out prose and pad the word count. Give these details when they are part of the story, and this means sub-text.

The Full Moon

For instance you will get the full effect of a moon­lit night if you write that on the mill­dam, a lit­tle glow­ing star­point flashed from the neck of a bro­ken bot­tle, and the round black shadow of a dog or a wolf emerged and ran, etc….”

Chekhov and I would cringe at reading someone tell us that the moon was full. His advice was to instead have that full moon perform some action, as with his example in his quote. And again, this gleaming moonlight is never a superfluous point. It is noted only as it genuinely contributes to the story telling.

For example, I set my first novel in the fall, October to be specific, and one week in October to be even more specific. Do I say it’s fall or October? No, I describe two fallen leaves blowing across the porch just as the main character and his brother-in-law agree to some misdemeanorous contract. One blows against the brother-in-law’s shoe and the over blows over it and the main hero steps on it. I’ve told you it’s fall and gave a scene with action that is also a portend of how the hero with betray his brother-in-law. This is how subtleties in the details of physical descriptions cam ne be used as a story telling tool.

Chekhov wrote many letters and gave enough writing advice in them to fill up a book. These are just a few. We will see some more in the next two articles. I hope these are useful to you the writer. If you find them so, please Share them with others. And let me know what you think in the Comment section.


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The Problem With Adverbs

Creative Writers are always warned to watch out for too many modifiers – adjectives and adverbs. Truly, we should aim for zero modifiers, but there may be an accession where one may be appropriate. So let’s call it as few as possible and those few are indispensable.

Adverbs are worse than adjectives. In fact, I will often use the Find function on my laptop and enter “ly” to see how many adverbs I let slip in. When I find them I decide whether to keep it, lose it, or rewrite the passage. Rewriting is usually what I end up doing.

When Not To Use Adverbs

The problem with all modifiers is that they are notorious tellers when we Creative Writers should be obnoxious showers. I still use a trick I learned from my first Creative Writing professor. If someone used an adverb in a story, the student had to justify its use.

For example, let’s says someone wrote, “Billy walked lazily down the sidewalk.” He would ask something like, “What does that mean?” or “How do you do that?” The student would then have to describe how a person walks in a manner that could be called lazy. He would then reply, “Now say that.”

Once you describe the actions of a lazy man walking you have ventured into the wonderful world of showing. So when you catch yourself using an adverb, ask yourself what sort of actions would convey that manner, and then use those actions in your prose.

The vilest place a Creative Writer may put an adverb is in a dialogue tagline. It jumps up from the page and screams at the reader THIS AUTHOR IS AN AMATURE! Don’t ever use, “he said knowingly” or “she asked curiously” or any other kind of abysmal modifirific abomination. You can read more about this in my article about the proper use of taglines.

When To Use Adverbs

I had to change clothes before I wrote this part of the article. I had to put on shirt and pants that are all black. That’s because I’m about to shift into Grammar Nazi mode for a bit here. So indulge me for a little bit here or you’ll be strung up with piano wire.

There are times when an adverb is preferable, and that is when an adjective is misused. Just keep in mind this distinction: adjectives tend to modify nominatives (nouns, pronouns) and adverbs tend to modify predicates (verbs, participles).

Sometimes people use adjectives when the modifier has a predicate antecedent. Look at the sentence, “He wanted to see Santa Claus real bad.” Here it should be “badly.” In this sentence “bad” modifies “see.” In other words, the manner in which he wanted to see Santa was badly, not bad.

I may lose my membership to the Author’s Private Club with Salon and Lounge, but this is a sentence where an adverb should be used. At least the adverb is not grammatically incorrect. I would suggest that the Creative Writer must still see if “badly” passes the rigors for adverbial use as discussed earlier. At least it will keep us Grammar Nazis from clucking our tongues at your text when you misuse adjectives.

Two rules all Creative Writers should know are watch the use of modifiers and grammar must be used perfectly (extra credit for those who catch the irony). In the end, it’s your story, and you will write it however you want to. But don’t forget that everyone who reads it will judge it and you. Don’t open yourself up to unnecessary scowls and scrutiny just because you really thought all those messy modifiers actually worked. It’s best to keep the prose as clean as possible with nothing on the page that is not indispensable.

If you know some Authors who struggle with adverbs and all attending shenanigans, do them a favor and Share this article with them. And be sure to leave your Comments in the section below. I will read them earnestly.

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Jolee Wilson & The Blog Hop

Jolee Wilson is a writer and a blogger participating in a Blog Hop. I agreed to participate in it with her. She promotes three bloggers on her blog site and those three in turn promote three bloggers, and so forth into eternity. Here is a link to her post. I encourage everyone reading to go and enjoy her site. Look around and see what you can see. You’ll be seeing my Blog Hop coming up in a week or two. Enjoy!

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Top Ten Novels Set In The Wilderness

I was recently looking over my second novel, Drover. I’ve yet to publish it and I’m thinking of launching it some time next year. It’s a about a cowboy who wants to settle down with a big ranch and a big family. It’s not a Western, but it also isn’t some sprawling urban tale. It made me think about over books set in the wilderness. These are my Top Ten favorite books set out in the wild.

10. Little House In The Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder – We all remember the television show.

9. Roughing It by Mark Twain – Twain’s offering of a Western.

8. Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes – The original buddy story on the road.

7. All The Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy – The first in McCarthy’s border trilogy.

6. A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean – The struggles of a Montana fishing family.

5. The Bear by William Faulkner – Hunting a bear in the Mississippi woods and coming of age.

4. The Heart Of Darkness by Joseph Conrad – An ivory trader on the Congo River deals with racism and colonialism.

3. For Whom The Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway – Spanish rebels who live in a cave tasked with blowing up a bridge.

2. Lord Of The Flies by William Golding – Young boys on their own demonstrate our true state of nature.

1. Call Of The Wild by Jack London – More than anything ever written, Nature is the hero in this book.

There are certainly other novels and you may feel as if they should make the list. Make your own list and let me know about it in the Comment section below.

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Top Ten Ways You Can Celebrate Bloomsday


 One of the most celebrated novels is James Joyce’s Ulysses. It details the events of a single day in the life of Leopold Bloom. This day is June 16, 2904. And so, every June 16th is celebrated as Bloomsday. Maybe you’ve never honored Bloomsday or even knew it existed. Or maybe you keep it every year. Regardless, here’s a few things you can do today to celebrate Bloomsday.

10. Enjoy a fried kidney for breakfast along with a cup of hot tea.

9. Discuss the nature of Hamlet’s ghost with yoiur friends.

8. Buy a container of potted meat, without with no home is complete.

7. Mourn loved ones.

6. Insert the word Yes in the middle and at the end of sentences.

5. Write a poem while on the beach

4. Write a love letter and sign it Henry Flower.

3. Duck into the National Museum.

2. Visit a maternity ward in a hospital.

1. Talk about love with those who need to hear it the most

All these and more go on in Joyce’s Ulysses. Do them all and enjoy them. Find other things in the book you can do, as well. Regardless, make sure you live today and every day in contentment regardless of your lot and love all you meet with the compassion they deserve.


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The Mount Rushmore Of Literature

Basketball star Lebron James made news earlier this year when he said that belongs on the Mount Rushmore of basketball players. Some agreed, others disagreed, but my opinion varied from all others I heard.

James was claiming to be one of the four best players ever and the debate revolved around that. The debate missed the point because of a flawed assumption. The assumption has nothing to do with Lebron James, but rather with the four presidents represented on Mount Rushmore.

The presidents figured do not represent the four best presidents. But rather the single best president to signify a certain aspect of American greatness. George Washington stands for Independence. Thomas Jefferson represents Freedom. Abraham Lincoln symbolizes Equality. Theodore Roosevelt emblemizes America’s role in world affairs.

It’s common to miss this point and consider the four best of anything to be the Mount Rushmore of this or that. So if I were to ever talk about the Mount Rushmore of Literature, it should follow the same pattern as the original intent.

The Mount Rushmore Of Great Authors

The literary equivalence to George Washington is Walt Whitman. He stands for American independence from the British literary tradition more than any writer of his time. Some would suggest Twain or Poe, which are fine options. But to me, Whitman breaks away from the British model and creates an American literary tradition all other American writers would follow.

Ernest Hemingway certainly walked down the trail blazed by Whitman, but he demonstrates freedom in a way that is different than the notion of independence. Hemingway composed in a way that was free from the patterns and the rules that governed most of the world’s literature, with the possible exception of the Russian writers of the 1800s.

If there is an American author who principally stands for equality, it is John Steinbeck. He believed in the concept of the oversoul. In this way, all living people are connected. So in a work like The Grapes Of Wrath Steinbeck demonstrates that we should care for all people and not just our family.

To find a writer who deals with the affairs of the world, I had to go outside of the American catalogue. William Shakespeare more than anyone who has ever lived expertly wrote of how it is to live the life of a human, regardless of when or where they lived. His plays handled a wonderful universality that makes his tales utterly timeless.

The Mount Rushmore Of Great Literature

But how about the four best representatives of written works? I would begin with The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn. This masterwork by Mark Twain is arguably the novel that began American literature, at least in novel form. It not only addresses American issues, but it does so with an American tone and style. This story could not have been written by any of Twain’s contemporaries in Europe, and definitely not in his voice.

Just as Hemingway ventured from the old ways of writing novels, T.S. Eliot broke new ground with his poem, “The Waste Land.” It was not only a new way of composing poetry, it addressed a subject matter new to the literary scene. Arguably “The Waste Land” dealt with the emptiness of the Lost Generation following the Great War and all of its skepticism and disillusionment. Others wrote of this subject before and after this work, but none did it with the indelible ink of Eliot.

There were many American novels written in the 1800s that dealt with the sin of slavery, but Absolom, Absolom! handled the matter in the most unique way possible. The main character is appalled by a mixed race relationship but doesn’t bat an eye at incest. In the novel, those one-eighth black were called octoroons. One character comments that black blood must be strong if one-eighths of it in someone can overpower the remaining seven-eighths white blood.

Just as Shakespeare wrote stories with universal appeal, James Joyce authored the ultimate timeless novel with Ulysses. Joyce took Homer’s epic that covered twenty years and reduced it to twenty hours. And even though everything in the story deals with the adventures of one man, a Jewish advertising agent in Dublin, and everything takes place on June 16, 1904, Joyce nails down the universal message of love better than anything else I have ever known.

I know this is all my opinion. You may think of other writers or works that best suit the notions of independence, liberty, equality, and universality. That’s fine, in fact I encourage critical thinking on this and any subject. Make your own Mount Rushmore of Literature. Share it if you’d like in the Comment section below. In any instance, enjoy the construction work ahead.


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