Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Quotable Tuesday, II

"My only job is to be talented, that is, to know how to distinguish important testimony from unimportant, to place my characters in the proper light and speak their language." - Anton Chekhov

Ok, so here's the whole quote which is what I've always liked, but since I felt it violated the idea of my discussing the power and meaning of short quotes to throw that up initially, here it is:

Is it me, or does he look like Ed Norton here?
In my opinion it is not the writer's job to solve such problems as God, pessimism, etc; his job is merely to record who, under what conditions, said or thought what about God or pessimism. The artist is not meant to be a judge of his characters and what they say; his only job is to be an impartial witness. I heard two Russians in a muddled conversation about pessimism, a conversation that solved nothing; all I am bound to do is reproduce that conversation exactly as I heard it. Drawing conclusions is up to the jury, that is, the readers. My only job is to be talented, that is, to know how to distinguish important testimony from unimportant, to place my characters in the proper light and speak their language. — To Alexei Suvorin, May 30, 1888

Above quote was found here here - a great page with a bunch of Chekhov quotes on writing.  So much great stuff there, but this one wins the blog post since it is one that I saw long ago and that stuck out to me.  You know, there's no such thing as a free lunch.  (Oh, wait... that doesn't apply to this.)

I think Chekhov is the greatest short story writer ever and he is also one of my favorite writers.  So when he talks about craft, I sit up and listen.  Do I think that great literature can be created that violates what he is saying, absolutely.  There's probably a ton of it out there and I look to you literati to list some for me in the comments :)  So, I don't think that this is the only way to write, but it certainly seems like one way of considering craft that could take a person a long way.  Concerning oneself with the real people of the earth, representing them and their concerns honestly will take a writer very far.  The further I get from undergrad and adolescence the further I get from trickery or novelty in form and subject matter and the closer I get to a more honest and realistic (at least I hope...) depiction of representavive/significant events with realistic characters.  (well, to the best of my ability, etc, of course)

What do you all think of this quote?


  1. As you know :), I don't like Chekov's fiction one bit. This quote, however, interests me b/c it makes me wonder how "fictionalized" his fiction actually is. Am I reading correctly what he's saying here: that he's trying to represent actual things he's heard/seen without, like, making stuff up?

    If so, that's sure an interesting view of "fiction" . . . .

  2. I just spelled his name wrong. I knew it looked wrong. Oops.

  3. Well, no, Chekhov is not ultimately advocating a sort-of pre-creative-nonfiction creative nonfiction. I can definitely see why you think that based on what he is saying above. But I can say as someone who has read (listened) to a lengthy biography of his and read a good deal of his work that he is not someone who is wed to autobiography.

    He does advocate here a fiction based heavily on actual reality but I think think he is just making a point about replicating dialogue here. And like probably any writer, Chekhov would likely steal bits of dialogue and character from his experience.