First Things First: Part Two – The One Story You Should Be Writing Now

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As Writers, there are areas where we are all the same, and many in which we are different. we get our stories from different places. mine come from my dreams, i kid you not. some write thier stories as soon as they get them, and some like me stockpile them.

Why Wait?

I use to put my best ideas at the end of the line so by the time I got them I would be a more experienced and better writer. In fact, I put what I thought was my worst idea first. Strangely, when I had four novels, three finished and the fourth as a work in progress, my first novel I felt has had the most heft plotwise. And the two ideas at the end of my list, my two best ideas, are no longer on the list at all.

Possibly something is considered a better story idea than another merely for the amount of mental energy already invested in that story. The story you’re thinking about now is not the one to file away, but start on now. If you are in the middle of a novel and you get a great idea, make good notes on the new idea quickly and get back to your novel.

There is no reason to exhaust yourself creatively for something that will lose a lot of its steam sitting on the shelf. Why wait? If it’s that good, get to it as soon as you can. Deep down you want to write it, so indulge yourself.

Before It’s Too Late

I don’t want to be downer, but we are all mortal beings and we will all die someday. Will that day for you come when you are in the middle of that one story you put off when you shouldn’t? It’s happened before.

The composer Puccini died before he finished his masterpiece, Turendot. It is said that at the premiere, the conductor Toscanini stopped the orchestra, turned toward the audience, and an announced that it was at this point in the music when the maestro died. After a moment of silence, he returned to the performance.

The Man In Black

In the movie Walk The Line, Johnny Cash and his band are playing Gospel songs to a record exec, who is not impressed. He told Johnny to sing the one song he would sing if he had only one more chance to sing a song before he died. He sang Folsom Prison Blues and got signed.

Don’t write what’s expected of you. Don’t write whatever is next on the list. Write that one story that’s in you that you want to write more than any other. Coming at it later will not help, in fact it might hurt. I still have the stockpile, but no more list. I let the Muse pick my stories for me. She’s tougher than me, so I don’t argue.

What is the one story you are writing now? Mine is about an Irishman looking for a wife. I’ll tell you more as I get more done. Whatever that one story for you is, Write it, right now!

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First Things First: Part One  – Your Focus As A Writer

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How you define yourself can be seen in how you identify yourself. I am a father. I am a mother. I am a lawyer. I am a fireman. I am a …? Have you ever identified yourself as a writer, and I mean have you done it publicly toward other people?

When asked by other people, “What do you do?” I used to identify myself by my dayjob, and then add, “but I’d like to be a writer.” Then one day I said, “I am a writer.” That made all the difference in my attitude toward myself and my work ever sense.

Many cannot do that because they feel as if they have not yet merited that description. They are not yet published, or they are not yet famous. Regardless of how much you have written, for how long you have been writing, how many people have read your work, you need to get it into your head, YOU ARE A WRITER. That is your identity, both internally and externally, from this day forward.

Expectations, Not Just Goals

There’s no need to say it if you’re not going to do it. Saying you are a writer means you write. This means more than a little scribbling now and then. Writers begin and finish projects, and then they get them read by people who are not related to them.

Goals are nice, but easy to sidestep. Goals are what you want to get done. Expectations are better. Expectations insist that such will be accomplished, and within a certain timeframe. I expect to post articles for this blog every Monday and Thursday. I expect to post excerpts from a serial short story every other Wednesday here. I expect to publish a short story anthology by midyear and my first how to book by the end of the year.

Take your goals and make them into expectations.

Rev Up Your Urgency

You need to make yourself accountable for your writing expectations. Don’t just keep them in your head. Write them down. Also tell someone else. That is what I just did with that last paragraph. So now if someone asks me, “How is that anthology coming?” I had better have a good answer and not lie about it!

Take your big projects and make them into several small projects. Then give each one a deadline. This sounds terrifying, but a sense of urgency is what your writing needs. It’s good to be under the gun, even if you are the one who loaded it.

And don’t be afraid to pull the trigger on yourself. If you miss a deadline, punish yourself. I am not kidding. Tell yourself, “You will get no more coffee until you finish this chapter,” and stick to it. Make the punishment something you’ll miss, and you’ll break fewer and fewer deadlines. Little projects become one big project, and you will have accomplished a lot.

Write And Be Read Immediately

Writing will definitely make you feel like a writer, but one thing will accomplish that quicker and with more durability, and that is writing and being read. Let’s face it, we didn’t finish that novel just to sit on our desktops. We want to be read.

As Writers we must be read. Finishing a book is no guarantee I’ll ever be read. The best writers are the ones who share their work. That is one reason I am sharing my short story. Write something, make it quick and short, and share it with as many people as you can. Begin a habit of sharing your work. This is a habit you will carry through to your bigger writing projects.

So when you write you next novel, or your first, you will share what you write before, during, and after it is finished. This is ultimately what it means to be a writer. It’s not just finishing a book, or getting it published. The purpose of being a writer is so that you may be read, and thus affect the lives of others.

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The Case For The Oxford Comma

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In English grammar, a comma is a punctuative that separates words, phrases, and clauses. Disagreement exists now that did not when I was young (that’s because there was only one rule and the introduction of change is somewhat recent). The discrepancy has to do with what is known as the Oxford Comma. It is called that because it is the older and standard rule as listed in the Oxford Style Manual. Sometimes it is called the serial comma. That’s because it is used when items in a series are listed in a sentence. For example: “I packed for the trip my journal, my walking shoes, and my snorkel.” The last comma before and is the Oxford Comma.

Why The Change?

The reason for the change is because some say the and implies the comma and it is not necessary. Sometimes it is, or confusion ensues. What is interesting is that the proposal for change is not truly based on any linguistic reasons. The change was put forth by the publishing industry. To leave out an unnecessary comma saves space, which saves money in the publishing industry. How cheap do you gotta be? These are the same geniuses who changed two spaces after a period to one, and for the same reason. Let that sink in – the argument the Oxford Comma is not coming form linguist or professors, but printers looking to shave a few pennies from the cost of printing. I declare shenanigans!

Clarity

What someone wrote a book, and stated on the dedication page, “I dedicate this book to my parents, Barbara Bush and Jesus Christ.” This statement omits the Oxford Comma. Is the writer saying his book is dedicated to four people, or that his parents are Barbara Bush and Jesus Christ? The Oxford Comma would clear that up. Or what if I said, “I had over for dinner last night a couple of prostitutes, Bill Clinton and Harvey Weinstein.” Am I calling Bill and Harvey a couple of prostitutes, or were they there along with the prostitutes? The Oxford Comma would let you know for sure.

A Real-World Problem

This is not all hypothetical things for grammar nerds to argues about. He absence of a comma recently led to a multi-million-dollar lawsuit. Maine’s Oakhurst Dairy was sued by some of its drivers over backpay due from overtime. Maine state law at the time stated that workers are not entitled to overtime pay for: “The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of: (1) Agricultural produce; (2) Meat and fish products; and (3) Perishable foods.” The argument was that a lack of a comma after shipping that it is the packing “for shipment or distribution” that’s not eligible for overtime and not the distribution itself. Only with a comma would “distribution” have been included as one of the series of activities ineligible for overtime. The drivers won and the dairy had to pay. A proper Oxford Comma would have kept this from becoming such a problem.

The Oxford Comma is not only based upon common sense, but decades, even centuries of uninterrupted use. The proposal for change did not come from language people, but book and newspaper folk. It has no legitimate claim to change anything. Let’s keep the Oxford Comma. If anyone tries to make me change, they’ll have to pry the Oxford Comma from my cold, firm, determined, and stubborn hands.

 

 

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“Looking At ‘Hills Like White Elephants’ as a Writer”

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Ernest Hemingway once said that a story is like an iceberg. The ice you see is the words on the page and rest of the ice that remains underwater is the rest of the story. As we know, most of the iceberg is under water. In other words, Hemingway is saying that most of the story is not written on the page.

The Title

Hemingway was a master of the writing principle of saying it without saying it. His short story “Hills Like White Elephants” is a perfect example. Let’s begin with the title. A white elephant is rare. In southeast Asian culture, a king would give a white elephant as a gift to another king. But you couldn’t put an elephant like this to work. So it sat about, idle, and eating everything. The term “white elephant gift” has come to refer to a gift that the receiver doesn’t want. So from the title alone we know someone is going to offer to give something to someone and they don’t want it.

The Simple Operation

The setting is a man and a woman having a drink at a train station waiting for the train to arrive and take them to Madrid. They day is very hot, which tells us that the discussion is heated. They are not yelling or fighting, but they are feeling the heat, at least, the woman is. The man is trying to convince the woman to have an operation, one which he calls “a simple operation” and “not even an operation at all.”

The operation involves letting air in, but where he does not say. He insists that afterward they will be happy just like before, but one gets the sense they were not too happy before at all. They woman states that she knows some people who had this simple operation who were not so happy afterwards, despite what the man insists.

The man says he doesn’t want her to go through with it if she doesn’t want to, but the manner in which he continually tries to persuade her says otherwise. She is willing, but only because she does not care for herself, only him, and making him happy.

The man tells her that afterward they can have anything they want, but she disagrees. Clearly, whatever this simple operation does, it removes something she wants, but he doesn’t get it, because, like the woman, he only cares for himself and has no regard for her.

Use Of Imagery

So what is this operation. The text tells us that the side of the tracks that contain the white hills, the unwanted gift, is dry and barren. She looks to the other side of the tracks and sees the opposite. Hemingway writes, “Across, on the other side, were fields of grain and trees along the Ebro. Far away, beyond the river, were mountains. The shadow of a cloud moved across the field of grain and she saw the river through the trees.”

In contrast to the lifeless side of the tracks with the hills, the other side shows signs of life, prosperity, even fertility. Clouds and rivers, trees and grain, all this lie in contrast to the dreary countryside. The woman is drawn to this side, as if she prefers it. She is at a stretch of train tracks, which symbolize a choice, this side or the other side.

Her choice is between fertility and barrenness and whether or not to have a simple operation. It seems clearly that man wants her to have an abortion, but she doesn’t want it. Still, she is willing to make him happy. Sadly, she accepts his white elephant gift.

As an author, notice how Hemingway uses dialogue, setting, imagery, and even the title to help tell his story. Keep in mind there is still plenty of ice below the water. Try to develop the skills and work them into your overall creative writing craft. Great writers are always great readers first. They don’t knock off other writers, but they always learn from them.

 

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Relationships & Intimacy in Creative Writing

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I have always defined fiction as interesting people doing interesting things. This brings together the two great elements of story crafting, character development and plot development. Between the two I have always found character development to be the most difficult and the most rewarding. I have done many things to add layers to my characters. I have given then all the Briggs-Myers Personality Exam and I have given them associated mental disorders. I have divided them by the anneagramic personalities and by the major segments of types of dreams. But from my experience, the secret to tremendous character development is to explore the relationships between my characters.

Readers Relate To Relationships
Let’s face it, no man is an island. We all have relationships with other people, both those close to us and those on the fringe of our associations. These relationships can be good or bad, but we all have them. So when we read of a character who struggles with a relationship with someone, we can put ourselves in their shoes. Likewise, when boy meets girl and boy agonizes over how to get her to notice him, we all shake our head and empathize along.

Readers want to relate to characters, but readers will relate to relationships because they are so universal. The more prickliness you put in the relationship between any two characters, the more readers are invested because they want everything to work out well. The more you conceal, but let you readers know that something is concealed, the more they will read on to see what you’ve got hidden on the next page for them.

“Into Me I See”
I once heard a relationship expert define intimacy as “into me I see.” In other words, the level of intimacy between any two people shows us more about those two people than we would have known about them singularly and without the relationship. Think of your own life. How do you relate to your spouse or your parent? The level and type of intimacy a man has with his wife or his father shows us more about him than we could have known of if there never were a reference to these other people.

If this is true for you and me, then it’s true for our readers. Likewise, it will follow with all of our characters. When you demonstrate relationships that are rich and complex, so becomes our understanding of these people. If I wish to describe interesting people doing interesting things, that means some people will work together or sometimes other characters will try to undermine certain characters. The bonds between all of these people are demonstrative as to who they really are. You can give wonderful personalities to your characters and make them as unique and individual as possible. But when you show how all these people get along, you have found the hidden treasure of more interesting characters, which cannot help but make for better stories.

If you found this material useful, please Like and Share it on your social media channels. Maybe you know of another writer would could benefit from this information. And if you have any Comments, be sure and leave them in the section below.

 

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Loonies & Literature

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Even considering the most well-adjusted among us, everybody is somewhat bonkers. If you say you are not, that’s the poof you are! Nothing makes your characters more real and induvial that to make them act a bit nutty. The field of psychiatry has given all these good names and descriptions for different disorders and tendencies, so why not use them?

There is one group of odd behavior.

  • Paranoid personality disorder– characterized by irrational suspicions and mistrust of others.
  • Schizoid personality disorder– lack of interest in social relationships, seeing no point in sharing time with others.
  • Schizotypal personality disorder– characterized by social isolation, anxiety in social situations, and odd behavior or thinking.

There is another group for erratic disorders.

  • Antisocial personality disorder– a disregard for the rights of others, lack of empathy, and usually a pattern of regular criminal activity.
  • Borderline personality disorder– extreme “black and white” thinking, instability in relationships, identity and behavior often leading to self-harm.
  • Histrionic personality disorder– attention-seeking behavior including inappropriately seductive behavior and shallow or exaggerated emotions.
  • Narcissistic personality disorder– a pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and a lack of empathy. Preoccupations with fantasies, including a sense of entitlement.

Still, another collection centers on fearful disorders.

  • Avoidant personality disorder– feelings of social inhibition and social inadequacy, extreme sensitivity to negative evaluation and avoidance of social interaction.
  • Dependent personality disorder– psychological dependence on other people.
  • Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder– characterized by rigid conformity to rules, moral codes and excessive orderliness.

Not only do mental ticks make your characters unique and real, it makes their own decisions an obstacle to overcome. Your prose becomes much more entertaining for your readers. And what’s more, it’s fun!

 

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Top Ten Most Compelling Characters From Literature

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A great novel has compelling characters. That can mean many things. They can be compelling because they are heroic or compelling because they are disgusting. Here is a list of (in my opinion) the Top Ten list of the most compelling characters from literature

10 Nabokov’s Humbert – The professor from Lolita is compelling, if not more than a bit creepy

9 Flaubert’s Madame Bovary – Every ad telling women they can have it all needs to be followed by an ad for Madame Bovary

8 Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin – The verse-novel of this title character is the ultimate sorry, not sorry tale (or is it not sorry, sorry?)

7 Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes – His credentials have been given a boost recently by the excellent BBC show

6 Tolstoy’s Count Pierre Bezukhov – He goes through so much to finally get the girl of his dreams

5 Shakespeare’s Hamlet – Compelling, or not compelling? That’s not even a question!

4 Fitzgerald’s Jay Gatsby – Rich and handsome, so what that he’s a bootlegger and a crook?

3 Joyce’s Leopold Bloom – How many other people in books have their own day named after them?

2 Lee’s Atticus Finch – Maybe the most beloved character in all of American literature

1 Hugo’s Jean Valjean – Talk about your full character arcs, Valjean has been through it all

This is my list, and it’s just my opinion. I’d love to hear what you think. What would your top ten be like? Tell me in the Comment section below. And please like and share this article with other bookworms

 

 

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Chekhov & Ambiguity

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, our 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 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.

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Chekhov & Character

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One of the greatest Russian writers, and that’s saying quite a bit, is Anton Chekhov. This is the second of the three-part series on his approach to Creative Writing.

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 do 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 heroes or black 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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Chekhov & Scenery

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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

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:

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….”

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 can 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 Like it and Share them with others. And let me know what you think in the Comment section.

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