Saturday, 27 February 2010

With Apologies To Anton Chekhov, Master Of The Open Ended Short Story

This week’s sentence was taken from Boris Pasternak's 'Doctor Zhivago.'

It was:
'The hotel staff were being driven frantic; the incident in No.23 was only one more nuisance added to their daily vexations.'

With Apologies To Anton Chekhov, Master Of The Open Ended Short Story

The phone had rung for ages. The hotel staff were being driven frantic; the incident in No.23 was only one more nuisance added to their daily vexations. That aside, room service were going to get their arses kicked if his breakfast wasn’t delivered in the next half-hour. In the meantime he slouched to the bathroom. Showered, shaved but still angry he reached for the phone again.
Then he saw the gun. To tell the truth he had seen it several times already but it was only now that it registered. Once the initial shock had passed he sat and looked at it.
He was reminded of Chekhov: 'If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don't put it there.'
He wondered who was writing his story and hoped they did not know their Chekhov. A writer should remove anything inessential from the story and now here was a gun placed nonchalantly on his nightstand, bringing with it an implicit threat from a dead Russian playwright. He decided not to be around for the next act.

Maggie was in the lobby.
‘What the hell is wrong with room service this morning?’ She said.
He shrugged.
Yanking her shapeless hat down over her head she checked herself in one of the big old mirrors and made a face like a lungfish.
‘Ah, screw it. I’m going out for a smoke. Coming?’
They sucked in traffic fumes and nicotine washed down with what might have been coffee from the stand on the corner. Maggie coughed up a lung.
‘Jeez, that’s better.’
‘There’s a gun in my room.’ He said.
‘What the fuck? Yours, I hope.’
‘I don’t own a gun.’
‘So what are you doing with one in your room?’
‘I woke up this morning and there it was. Actually, I didn’t notice it until I came out of the bathroom but it must have been there all along.’
‘D’you have company last night?’
He shook his head.
‘So what’ve you done with it?’
‘Nothing; it’s still lying there. I just got the hell out in case its owner came back.’
Maggie ground out her butt and tossed her cup in the trashcan. ‘Let’s go take a look.’

The gun was gone, which scared him more than if it had still been there. At least with it on his nightstand he knew where it was; now there was a gun in his story and he had no idea where it might turn up next. Consequently, nowhere was safe.

Maggie found the manager outside No.23.
‘There was a gun in No.42 but now it’s gone.’ She said.
He didn’t reply, just stared fixedly through the open door into the room. Maggie followed his gaze.
‘Holy shit! What the hell happened in there?’
‘You honestly don’t want to know.’
She looked up at him.
‘You know what would really make Anton Chekhov spin in his grave?’
‘No, what’s that?’

Note to self:
If you cannot think of an ending to your story, simply leave it hanging and call it Chekhovian. After all, a great many of his 800 or so short stories simply sketched out a situation, played it along for a bit and then left the denouément to the reader.

As the man himself said, when Suvorin accused him of doing just that: 'You confuse two concepts: the solution of a problem and its correct presentation. Only the second is incumbent on the artist.'

Which gives me a good excuse not to bother thinking up an ending.
Plus of course, I liked the idea of making Anton spin in his grave by introducing the gun and then NOT having it fired. And of not explaining the incident in No.23.
Or it could just be that this long, cold winter has given me cabin fever and I'm writing and talking gibberish.
Hey ho.


MmeBenaut said...

Ah Dive dear, so many French films are like that - have no ending whatsoever. I like the word "denouément".

Of course, the gun had probably already been fired in No. 23.

You are very good at dialogue too. I can never write dialogue, I have no insight whatsoever into what a person might be thinking or about to say - I think it's some kind of take on Asperger's Syndrome!

dive said...

Mme: Not just French films; just about every Japanese movie I've watched has no ending whatsoever.

'Denouément' is one of my favourites, too.

And as for dialogue, you should give it a try. When I first started the 500 Words stories I dare not write any as I had no idea how. I think one of my early stories had a single 'spoken' line in it. But then it just comes naturally. It's fun, too: putting words into peoples' mouths. Hee hee.