When One Has Finished Writing a Short Story One Should Delete the Beginning and the End

Anton Chekhov? Ivan Bunin? André Maurois? Paul Engle? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A famous author offered the following astonishing advice: After completing a story one should cross out the beginning and the end.

This guidance has been attributed to the prominent Russian playwright and short-story writer Anton Chekhov. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The Russian writer Ivan Bunin won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1933. An English translation of his book Воспоминания appeared in 1951 under the title “Memories and Portraits”. One chapter discussed Anton Chekhov who Bunin initially met in Moscow at the end of 1895. Ellipses appeared in the 1951 text. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

A few characteristic phrases of his have remained fixed in my memory to this day. “Do you write a lot?” he asked me. I replied that I did not. “What a shame,” he said glumly, in his deep chest voice. “You must work, you know. You must work without stopping. . . . All your life.”

Then, after a pause, he added without any apparent connection: “I think that when one has finished writing a short story one should delete the beginning and the end. That’s where we fiction writers mostly go wrong. And one should be brief, as brief as possible. . . .”

The dialog above was based on conversations that occurred many years before Ivan Bunin published his book. Hence, the veracity of his memory was crucial.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading When One Has Finished Writing a Short Story One Should Delete the Beginning and the End

Notes:

  1. 1951, Memories and Portraits by Ivan Bunin, Translation by Vera Traill and Robin Chancellor, Chapter: Chekhov, Quote Page 31 and 32, Doubleday & Company, Garden City, New York. (Verified with scans)