What Would Chekhov do? writing exercises: 1st Installment

What Would Chekhov do?Friday Night Writers is pleased to present the first installment of John Dufresne’s What Would Chekhov do? writing exercises. We will be posting additional exercises here every other week, so please stay tuned. If you haven’t yet done so, sign up to be notified as we publish each new installment.

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7 thoughts on “What Would Chekhov do? writing exercises: 1st Installment

  1. Thank you, John for motivation to write. Your generosity matches your skill in the art of story telling. As a one-time-several-years ago participant in the Friday night writers, I miss the inspiration from you and the group.

  2. This summer, I will be posting some of the exercises I have done using the prompts. They won’t necessarily be connected in any way. I hope others will share their exercises as well!

    Here and Now!

    Dust was her enemy. She accepted that she had to clean up her messes, and she understood the tumbleweeds of cat hair blowing around her floor and litter crumbs in her bed as part of the price of having her beloved pets, but there was something inherently unfair about how dust accumulated everywhere through no fault of her own. And, this being South Florida, the dust was accompanied by a lovely grunge that seemed to find its way onto anything from posters to the clothes in her closet. Sometimes she forgot about it until she happened to be home in the middle of a particularly bright day, when the harsh sun would illuminate it coating her window blinds and all the books, dolls, and assorted bric-a-brac on her shelves, making her want to hang her head in defeat.

    She could hear her mother puttering around the kitchen, making one of her creations out of whatever food happened to be left in the cupboards. She hadn’t noticed before how her mom shuffled from one room to the next, but now the sound was unmistakable. When had that started? Her mother sometimes chided her about her lack of domesticity, asking, “What will you do when I’m gone?” She wanted to prove to her mother that someday she could afford to eat out every day and hire a cleaning service, but every day was a reminder that she didn’t have much time left.

    She stood up and stretched, her body both welcoming and protesting the change from the position she had held for the past hour and a half. As the relentless sun pierced through her window blinds, she woke her cats up with hugs and said, “It will happen. I will do whatever it takes.”

  3. Autobiography (in third person because I may adapt it into fiction rather than make it a straight autobiography)

    As a young child living by the bay, surrounded by loving parents and two doting grandmothers, she couldn’t appreciate how idyllic her childhood was. She was too young to remember the operation on her chest, or the hurricane that damaged the inside and outside her family’s house. Her life was a series of presents which she and her parents had her pose with beside the palm trees in their sunny yard. Her greatest fears were a loud cuckoo clock in the hallway and the stickers she would get in her feet if she went outside barefoot.

    Her world wasn’t totally without crises: while walking down the wide sloping railing beside the front porch steps, she fell onto a thorny bush and scraped her side. Once she was comforted and bandaged, the pain was soon forgotten. But then there were nightmares. Her earliest remembered dream was being in a dark elevator with her parents, and the doors opened to reveal a large green ghost glaring at them with large red eyes. Yes, it was a cartoonish ghost that looked like the one in a game she had, but it was how her child’s brain reflected fears that she couldn’t express, of a threat she couldn’t possibly understand yet. It was as if no matter how perfect everything seemed, she knew even then that it could not last.

  4. “Has anything had made you very unhappy, like for a long time?”Judy asked a bit resentfully, a hard expression on her troubled face.

    Alice felt a little ashamed because she usually bounced back pretty fast whenever she felt bad. The loss of her sister still made her stomach twist into knots, like it did the day she found out in the hospital and curled up in the chair in too much pain to cry, but she couldn’t bring herself to talk about that. It felt like a chronic case of survivor’s guilt.

    “I guess I would count any time I’ve lost a job,” she responded, looking down to hide her fear of Judy’s judgment of her for not having something more serious to report, “not so much for the loss of income, but it makes me feel ashamed, like if I’d only been better I wouldn’t have lost the job.”

    “Yeah, well,” Judy retorted, “I get anxiety so bad I screw up any interview I’m able to get. Are you afraid of anything?”

    Alice sipped her water and thought about her worst fears, the worst thing about them being that she knew would be a reality someday. But she had some really silly fears, too. “I still don’t like to eat or drink from a plate or cup with pictures, which I blame on a cereal bowl I had as a kid with an illustration from Little Red Riding Hood at the bottom. Kind of scary!” But, no, I don’t feel fear that much, even when I know I probably should.”

    Judy rolled her eyes. “Well, it’s good that you refuse to live in fear. I’m sure your parents would freak out if they knew about the time you walked from Penn Station to our hotel at about 2am. “

    “I know I’ve been really lucky – God watches out for fools, right? – even if I haven’t been as successful as I would like to be. But that’s on me.”

    Judy’s expression softened and she gave Alice a hug. “Don’t ever change, kid.”

    After Judy left, Alice began thinking about what the best thing that had happened to her was. She looked at a picture of her mom after her successful surgery to remove her tongue cancer and knew that was way up there. Mostly, though, she hoped the best was yet to come.

  5. “You look very relaxed,” Jessie said with good-natured envy. “I don’t know how you do it.”

    The high school cafeteria was, without a doubt, one of the least relaxing places Alice could have been at that moment, but she was blessed with the ability to tune out the noise and be perfectly at ease. “I’m less relaxed when it’s quiet,” she admitted to her friend. “That’s when my brain won’t shut up.”

    Jessie shook her head and smiled. “Oh, I know, I get that, too sometimes. It’s like, I finally get some quiet alone time, and my anxieties jump on me like a gang or a mafia hit.”

    Alice laughed and took a bite of her tuna salad sandwich, being extra careful to take neat bites since someone was actually next to her now. One of the advantages of eating at home was she could eat as messily as she wanted to. “Yeah, that’s why I actually prefer to eat here instead of the teacher’s lounge – it’s too quiet in there.” She didn’t say that there was also less chance she would have to socialize, because she didn’t want to give Jessie the wrong idea. But, with everything weighing on her mind, it seemed like every pore in her body wanted to be alone in the crowd.

  6. Alice walked in to her mother’s room to see her distraught and near tears.
    “I just saw the saddest thing,” she said, forcefully clicking the remote to turn off the television. “An 89-year-old woman was left alone by her caretaker and he didn’t tell anyone. She was found dead with bedsores so bad they went all the way to her bones! Can you imagine the pain that woman went through?” She waved her arm as if trying to push the image away.
    “Well, that’ll never happen to you.” Alice swallowed and comforted her mom as best she could. But in the back of her mind, she couldn’t help thinking that it was possible it could happen to her someday. At least she wouldn’t leave anyone mourning, she thought. But that made her sad, too.
    Later, when work was slow, Alice went in to Anthony’s office and saw him working on the department newsletter. “What’s the theme this month?” she asked.
    “Retirement planning. Big issue now. So many people are not prepared at all.”
    “Like me,” Alice said, immediately regretting it. Then she figured it didn’t matter, so she went on, “I was thinking earlier how I have no one to help me when I’m older, and that I’ll die alone.”
    “Happy thoughts!”
    “Yeah, well, part of me is glad no one will have to grieve for me.”
    Anthony sat up straight, putting his arms behind his head, and indication that she had his full attention. “You will leave something behind to make the world a better place. I know it. Hell, you already have. That alone will be reason for people to grieve for you. But it’s pointless to worry about that. No one knows when or how we’ll die.”
    “I wish we could choose. And I wish it wasn’t so hard and messy for the people we leave behind. Why can’t we just vanish or something?”
    “That would be ideal. But there’s something to be said for going out in a blaze of glory, too. But I guess not seeing it coming is best.”
    “I always thought so, too, but didn’t you hear about that actor whose wife died in her sleep? I don’t think she wanted to go so soon and leave a husband and young child behind, and so much work left undone.”
    “So much for death being the great equalizer. Let’s close up and go home before you destroy any more of my comforting illusions.”

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