Anton Chekhov on Playwriting

Adapted from Playwrights on Playwriting

Edited by Toby Cole

Chekov3Try to be original in your play and as clever as possible; but don’t be afraid to show yourself foolish; we must have freedom of thinking, and only he is an emancipated thinker who is not afraid to write foolish things. Don’t round things out, don’t polish — but be awkward and impudent. Brevity is the sister of talent.

The large number of revisions need not trouble you, for the more of a mosaic the work is, the better. The characters stand to gain by this. The play will be worthless if all the characters resemble you . . . . And who is interested in knowing my life or yours, my thoughts and your thoughts? Give people people, and not yourself.

Avoid “choice” diction. The language should be simple and forceful.

The first act may last as long as a whole hour, but the rest should not be more than twenty minutes each. The crux of the play is the third act, but it must not be so strong a climax as to kill the first act.

I like the “vaudeville.” It begins in a very original way . . . . In one-act things you must write nonsense — there lies their strength.

(T)here is an excessive hysteria in the language. (The character) must not use witticisms; but you make all of them fall into this habit; they keep playing on words, and that tires the attention a little; it is too flashy; the language of your characters is like a white silk dress on which the sun is always shining in full force and which it hurts the eyes to look at.

(I)t ought to be mentioned in the first or second act that she has attempted to poison herself; then, after that hint, the poisoning in the third act will not seem so startling and will be more in place. (He) talks too much; such characters ought to be shown bit by bit among others, for in any case such people are everywhere merely incidental — both in life and on the stage.

One usually dislikes a play while writing it, but afterward it grows on one. Let others judge and make decisions.

If you’d like to read what playwrights such as Arthur Miller, Sam Shepard, Joyce Carol Oates and others have to say about the art and craft of writing for the stage, type “On Playwriting” into the small sidebar window and tap the Search button.

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