Thursday, March 29, 2012

Anton Chekhov on Writing

Who: Anton Chekhov

Written: "A Marriage Proposal" (play), "The Cherry Orchard" (play) and "The Lady with the Dog" (short story) among many others.

What did he say: He has said a lot about the process of writing. Chekhov had been very vocal and seemingly adored to theorize about writing. There are quotes on writing that exceed the length of a paragraph. I've taken it as my mission to show the shorter, but still impact-full snippets.

"Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass." 
"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."

What do I think: 'Show don't tell' is as old as the game itself, but the quote shows the advice in practice. The use of so few words also encourages that the number of words is of little consequence. Rather pay attention to how you use them. 

I can't say whether we really lie in those two parts, but it stroke me as pretty interesting, because in my own experience, writers tend to rework the beginning and the end multiple times and with enviable intensity. 

'Colder' will also provoke you to worldbuild better. I have noticed that secondary worlds fall flat, because only the minimal has been done to elicit an emotion. This is where 'show don't tell' works on a macro level as well. If you will have a segment of a society suffer in your secondary world, you better strive to compete with real life as far as cruelty is considered. 

Is crying enough to convey tragedy? What sells misery?