What Would Chekhov Do?

Антон Павлович Чехов.

We recently read “Louisiana Power & Light,” one of the few novels set in northeast Louisiana, written by John Dufresne. The prose is rich and detailed and led us to a gem of a book by Dufresne about writing called “What Would Chekhov Do?”


For all writers, especially those who write fiction, the book is a fast-moving, freewheeling collection of ideas and creative prompts. Dufresne’s approach jumpstarts ideas of all kinds for those working in the written word. Dufresne also demonstrates clear and healthy writing in the writing itself.


His chapters are arranged in topics like “Coaxing stories to life” and “Fact to fiction: imaginary gardens” and “Writing stories: first, notice everything.” Writing is indeed a satisfying process of seeing, imagining and coaxing the stories into being.


Dufresne’s catalytic advice flows simply and encourages readers to write about “the smell and the sounds. Even the silence has a sound — let us hear it. Keep jotting down sense experiences. What do you see out of the corner of your eye?”


His is an intense and rich observational power that he suggest we all have if we spend enough time to develop the habit of seeing: “For years I wrote in the kitchen. Now I have a writing room, a converted sun porch, which will last until the next hurricane. I face out on a mangrove preserve. Yellow-crowned night herons, great blue herons, ibises, and Louisiana herons sometimes perch on the fence in the yard and watch me work. We have monkeys, too, vervet escaped from a bankrupt chimp farm in the sixties, but they just eat flowers and nibble the fruit. My cats curl in puddles of fur on my desk or walk up the window screens for the hell of it. We have agreed to share the space.”


He talks about freewriting, one of the favorite idea-generating techniques we’ve written about here, and brainstorming and connecting the dots — all from the writer’s point of view. He includes a load of practical advice woven into a  readable and accessible fast-paced narrative. Too many books about writing plod on into boredom. This one does not. If your stuck in a void of ideas that just won’t seem to come together, you might want to energize your thinking by asking, “What Would Chekhov do?”