‘WRITE LIKE Chekhov’ gets to the core of his work

WRITE LIKE Chekhov is the latest in a Series of WRITE LIKE workshops, designed to model our writing on specific practice of a writer as our model.

Illustrative experiences of WRITE LIKE: The young writer who’d never read Hemingway, flattered to be told he wrote like him, horrified to read Old Man & The Sea, glad to be set straight on the effects that earned the accolade were found in A Farewell To Arms, four decades earlier. An older woman who learned being a “Smart Mouth” was simply how professional satirists keep in practice, in Dorothy Parker’s book. The writer who discovered that he shared much more with George Orwell than a passing interest in dystopian fiction. The writerswho discovered that Nature writing could be poetry, or a story about fishing with your kid. The writer who learned how Mark Twain landed a joke.

This is done in a room, with other writers —including a facilitator (me) who is trained to find something to admire in every writer. So, we are also looking at the practice of our colleagues, gleaning approaches and techniques we admire. It doesn’t mean we have to write standing up, be a mean drunk, or get overfamiliar with guns. It doesn’t mean LIVE LIKE Hemingway. Especially if there are better models for your particular lifestyle, writing style and their complex interface.

And it should be noted here that every observation is coupled with an exercise.It’s all well and good to say right better or right like this or that. The trick is as in theater or any other art form: do it.

So what have I learned about Chekov? And how will we activate that in writing. In an hour and a half

There are a pair of famous often quoted ‘Rules for Writers’ attributed to Anton Chekov. They are generalized rules for writing he shared his writer brother when he was 25. They capture nothing of what is unique to Anton’s work. But they do point to some interesting developments ACROSS his work.

Chekhov articulated 6 specific principles that point to his future development. They are not often quoted because they go against favored practices of many writers: Anton is not -pertinent example- a fan of overtly socio-economic or political speeches in plays. So, Chekhov is not the ideal model, if you want to write political speeches. But if you like emotional monologs, you need to know about the Chekhov Rant. And if you find undercurrents of a socio-economic nature in Chekhovian drama, you have the support of the best observers. 

Speaking of scholarship, I took a dive deep enough to get down into the murky world of translation, where one scholar Identified 8 techniques that they feel define the unique aspect of Chekhovian Mood, across 145 translations. If you find that ineffable atmosphere in Chekov as compelling as I do, you will want to work with these 8 elements.

And translation brought up the topic of tragic sensibility and national character. I spent time with this because I have a writer who is a fan of my courses, who is brainy and philosophical, who is multinational, and who speaks Russian. Chekhov himself was interested in national character. And Chekhov felt Russians lacked a tragic sense, or more correctly that his ability to see it was a function of a dialog between laughter and death.

If you’re a fan of the ineffable, the intangible, the poetry that emerges out of silences, you’ll find that. But it is not just a magic wand you wield; you still have to know the magic words. And even with the right words, there’s a necessary frame for the work.

You don’t need any background in Chekhov to participate. But you will need to write.

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