“Everything that has no direct relation to the story must be ruthlessly thrown out. If you write in the first chapter that a rifle hangs on the wall it must without fail fire in the second or third chapter. And if it isn’t going to fire, it mustn’t hang, either.” –Anton Chekhov
List five objects in a story you’re working on. Pick one. Think about it as a prop. Write a scene for your story in which that object is reused in a new and unexpected way. Write quickly for 15 minutes without worrying how you are going to integrate that scene into the story—you can think about that later. Repeat the exercise for each of the objects on your list. Some will not go far, but hopefully one or two will enrich your story. And so it’s worth exploring each of them. (Adapted from Nick Arvin’s “Recycling Props” in Naming the World.)
- Discussion of craft techniques (approaches to detail, style, characterization, plot) originating from Chekhov that are still in wide use today
- Discussion of how artistic technique evolves
- Exercises in imitation
- A mini-workshop of student stories that draw on Chekhovian techniques; for example, my story “Old Boyfriends” draws on the themes and structure of Chekhov’s story “Gusev“; through revision it became a story independent of “Gusev”—but engaging deeply with the story took my writing in new directions.
Anca Szilágyi’s fiction appears in Fairy Tale Review, Gastronomica, The Massachusetts Review, and elsewhere. She was awarded a Made at Hugo House fellowship for her story collection More Like Home Than Home. Her book reviews appear on the Ploughshares blog.