What you usually find in novels

You’ve probably heard this quote from Anton Chekhov:

“Remove everything that has no relevance to the story.
If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall,
in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off.”

But he had heaps more to say than that.

If you’ve hit the NaNoWriMo wall, maybe adding (or omitting) something from this tongue-in-cheek list of things Chekhov found in novels will get you unstuck.

What You Usually Find in Novels

A duke, a duchess who used to be a beautiful woman, a rich man who lives next door, a left-wing novelist, an impoverished nobleman, a foreign musician, various servants: butlers, nurses, and tutors, a German estate manager, a gentleman, and an heir from America.

All the characters are unremarkable, yet sympathetic and attractive people. The hero saves the heroine from a crazed horse; he is strong-willed, and he shows his strong fists at every opportunity.

The sky is wide, the distances are vast, and the vistas are broad, so broad that they are impossible to understand. This, in short, is Nature.

Friends are blond. Enemies are red-headed.

A rich uncle: a liberal or conservative, according to circumstances. His death is more useful to the protagonist than his advice.

An aunt, who lives in a remote provincial town. A doctor with a concerned expression on his face, who gives people hope for the coming health crisis. He has a walking stick with a bulb, and he is bald. And where there is a doctor, there are illnesses; arthritis caused by overwork, migraines, inflammation of the brain. A man wounded in a duel, and advice to go to the spa.

A servant who worked for the old masters and is ready to sacrifice everything for them. He is a very witty fellow.

A dog that can do everything but talk, a parrot, and a nightingale. A summer cottage near Moscow and a mortgaged estate, somewhere in the South. Electricity, which is stuck into the story for no reason.

A bag of the best Italian leather, a china set from Japan, an English leather saddle, a revolver that fires perfectly, an order on the lapel, and a feast of pineapples, champagne, truffles, and oysters.

Accidental overhearing, as a source of great discoveries. A huge number of interjections, and of attempts to use technical terms whenever possible.

Small hints about important circumstances. Very often, no conclusion.

Seven mortal sins at the beginning, a crime in the middle, and a wedding at the end.

The End.

—from A Night in the Cemetery
and Other Stories of Crime & Suspense
by Anton Chekhov


One thought on “What you usually find in novels”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s