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How to Write Like Chekhov: Advice and Inspiration, Straight from His Own Letters and Work Paperback – Bargain Price, November 10, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Edited by professors Brunello and Lencek, this writing primer makes a thorough guide to the spare, realist style that made Chekhov one of the world's greatest playwrights and short story writers. Drawing specific (and more oblique) literary advice from Chekhov's correspondence and his experimental travel memoir The Island of Sakhalin (perhaps his most ambitious and personal project), the editors develop an insightful, practical outline of Chekhov's literary approach. Following Lencek's intelligent introduction, advice is helpfully broken down by topic, covering general questions of audience, subject and approach ("Witness, Don't Judge"); specific issues like plot, character and emotion ("Knowing How to Suffer"); observation and reporting ("Study the Graffiti"); and "the actual writing" ("Tell Stories as They Were Told"). Both Chekhov's correspondence and his excerpts prove interesting and illustrative, especially the work from Sakhalin that cast him as writer, ethnographer, tourist and census-taker. Including a "who's who" of Chekhov's pen pals and suggestion for further reading, this is a useful and smart guide for writers of all kinds.
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Review

Publishers Weekly, starred online review, 11/3/08
“Makes a thorough guide…An insightful, practical outline of Chekhov’s literary approach. Following Lencek’s intelligent introduction, advice is helpfully broken down by topic…Both Chekhov’s correspondence and his excerpts prove interesting and illustrative…Including a ‘who’s who’ of Chekhov’s pen pals and suggestion for further reading, this is a useful and smart guide for writers of all kinds.”


Augusta Metro Spirit, 11/19/08
“A masterpiece of writing advice…a perfect companion for writers at any stage of the craft.”


The Writer, 2/09
“What’s new and particularly noteworthy in this volume is a focus on lessons to be learned from a close reading of The Island of Sakhalin.”

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press; 1st Da Capo Press Ed edition (November 10, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1569242593
  • ASIN: B00394DG46
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.5 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,975,290 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on May 10, 2010
Format: Paperback
I have been writing professionally for ten years and have had a couple of books on Amazon. So, I hesitate to give any work two stars. However, each book must stand or fall on its own merit. The title "How to write like Chekhov" is ambitious. He was such a wordsmith and craftsman that anybody who loves to read and write can hardly resist the temptation to buy this work. Yet, it falls short in almost every aspect as a book to help those who wish to learn the writing craft. Had the book been titled differently, something along the lines of "Chekhov's letters and thoughts on writing" or similar, I would have given this work a higher score.

Yet, for both novice and experienced writer alike, there is little writing advice here that can be gleaned and put to immediate use. Most of Chekhov's letters in this book "do not" translate in useful easy to use writing advice. In other words, after reading this book you will still not have sufficient help to write like Chekhov.

It would have been more useful, though maybe not as honest, for the authors to glean all of Chekkov's thoughts on writing, and crystallize them into some absolutes. Instead the reader wades through nearly 200 pages, and is left disappointed.

If you want to write like Chekhov or learn from his style, take a few of his stories or plays and type large sections on your PC, print them and with paper and pen, mark them up. Look how he uses dialogue, characterization, narrative summary, scenes and all the other tools of a fiction master.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By DOJ on December 8, 2008
Format: Paperback
In the glut of self help writing books, this slim volume is unique in helping the serious writer learn from a master's advice. It deftly avoids the mechanical shortcuts of most training manuals and helps even the professional to improve her craft with poignant and applicable advice. Like Chekhov, this book encourages the writer to dig beneath the technical pointers, exposing the habits of character, mind, and observation that go into producing an artist with something to say.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By B. Bosker on December 8, 2008
Format: Kindle Edition
Unlike most self-help, how-to-write manuals, I found How to Write Like Chekov to be both edifying and an extremely enjoyable read.

With writing tips taken from the letters and memoirs of the master himself, the voice is distinct, captivating, and frequently laugh-out-loud funny, which makes the nuggets of advice sparkle. The book is chock full of valuable writing wisdom concerning a range of issues from style ("[One Problem] is that all these descriptions are complicated, mannered, and stale"), to content ("I saw everything, so it is not a question of what I saw, but how I saw"), and from purpose ("it is not the writer's job to solve such problems as the existence of God, pessimism, etc. My job demands only one thing of me: to be talented, that is, to distinguish between relevant and irrelevant evidence,; to illuminate characters, and so speak in their language.") to method ("Freethinking is essential, but to be a freethinker, one must not be afraid to write nonsense").

The honesty and forthrightness of this literary master regarding the pains, troubles, and insecurities of writing is also very encouraging to writers struggling to pen their own tales. In one letter, Chekov admits, "I will find a way to make time for writing for the New Times, but am glad that meeting deadlines is not one of your preconditions for my publishing in your paper." In another, he confesses, "What do I think of your stories? That you have talent is beyond doubt...it actually made me jealous that you had written it instead of me."

Useful, entertaining, humorous, and wise, How to Write Like Chekov deserves a place on the bookshelf of any aspiring writer, who, if they're like me, will soon find their copy as indispensable and dog-eared as Chekov's own story collections.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Shane K. Joseph on April 15, 2009
Format: Paperback
The writer as observer, not solution provider or judge; his purpose to depict life as it is in all its sordidness - this was the role Chekhov chose for himself, and that message is very clear from this "How to..." book.
Despite that premise, the old master is not shy to be firm and prescriptive about the "do's and "don'ts" of writing.
1) It's not "what" but "how"
2) Reading, Watching, Listening - essential to the writer
3) Cutting Mercilessly after writing
4) Do no invent suffering you have not experienced or witennessed yourself
5) No Lying in Art, and most importantly, do not lie to yourself
6) Never rush - deadlines are not important
7) Write with emotional restraint
8) Don't preach, don't teach
9) Pay no attention to the Critics
10) Do not put off writing

These are some of the learnings I took away, some contrary to what I had already learned.
Central to the book are notes and lessons observed from Chekov's ambitious trip to Sakhalin Island to expose the excesses of the Russian penal system at the time. His descriptions of life on that island definitely confirm Chekov as the master of "show, don't tell"

Shane Joseph [...]
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