Micro-Lesson | The Chekhovian Story with Anca Szilagyi

Posted Thu, 4/02/2015 - 4:50pm by  |  Category:


“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

Perhaps you’ve heard about Chekhov’s gun? Following this principle allows stories to be lean, purposeful, and powerful. Every detail has work to do in a story. When an object is introduced as significant, readers expect the story to follow through with it somehow. A planted object needs to have a use. Conversely, if a significant object appears for the first time toward the end of your story, consider introducing it somehow in the first third. Returning to an object in different ways throughout a story adds layers of meaning and emotional resonance.


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_szilagyi_credit_sayed_alamy_web.jpgAbout Anca

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.