Read Like A Writer

There are two ways to learn how to write fiction: by reading it and by writing it. Yes, you can learn lots about writing stories in workshops, in writing classes and writing groups, at writers' conferences. You can learn technique and process by reading the dozens of books like this one on fiction writing and by reading articles in writers' magazines. But the best teachers of fiction are the great works of fiction themselves. You can learn more about the structure of a short story by reading Anton Chekhov's 'Heartache' than you can in a semester of Creative Writing 101. If you read like a writer, that is, which means you have to read everything twice, at least. When you read a story or novel the first time, just let it happen. Enjoy the journey. When you've finished, you know where the story took you, and now you can go back and reread, and this time notice how the writer reached that destination. Notice the choices he made at each chapter, each sentence, each word. (Every word is a choice.) You see now how the transitions work, how a character gets across a room. All this time you're learning. You loved the central character in the story, and now you can see how the writer presented the character and rendered her worthy of your love and attention. The first reading is creative—you collaborate with the writer in making the story. The second reading is critical.

John Dufresne, from his book, The Lie That Tells A Truth: A Guide to Writing Fiction


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Monday, April 10, 2017

Anton Chekhov’s “Gun Theory” of Writing

Chekhov’s gun is a literary technique in which any object given a special significance within a story has to be used at some later point. The technique comes from Anton Chekhov, who explained that a pistol hung on a wall in the first act of the play should be used at some time later in the story. If the gun isn’t used, then it serves no purpose and is a mere distraction — unless it is meant to be a red herring. The ideal situation for Chekhov’s gun is one in which the object is noted but partially forgotten in the first instance, and then becomes relevant later in the story.

The biggest misconception about Chekhov’s gun is that it is equivalent to foreshadowing. Foreshadowing is where the writer leaves little clues about future events in the narrative, which are more clearly understood after the event is known. Chekhov’s gun relates more to removing extraneous information and descriptions than layering clues in for the reader. If a loaded gun is described in the first act and never fired, there is no need to describe the gun at all, because it is irrelevant.

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