Illusory- Chekhov’s Gun

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. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.

Anton Chekhov

Do not write a gun you do not intend to fire.

Do not write a gun you are not using to distract from the true gun you mean to fire.

Do not write a gun that is not a distraction from the gun that is meant to be thought of as the true gun when you intend to fire a smaller gun off-stage.

Do not write a gun.

There is a choice when writing.

Is the focus to be on lush background, grounding but ultimately meaningless?

Is the story stripped to the core, every piece of toast, every opening door an integral piece of the plot?

Of course it is possible to use both, but it is every bit as important to remember the reader as it is to remember the gun above the mantle.

It is easy enough to read details as background.

There are many stories where it is possible to happily read the tale on the surface, never noticing when the guns fire, one by one.

It takes a different state of mind to look around the room, note the guns, note the lamps, note the half-chewed toy on the carpet and say, “I will remember these because they might be important.”

We need cues to realize that we are meant to do so, to not treat description as set decoration, but rather as the key to later events.

It is also possible in these cases to seed false cues, false points of distraction from the guns that are meant to fire.

This is where the styles of writing intersect. Whether or not cues are important, they should interlock. They should build a stable and understandable foundation and support structure for the story they illustrate.

Too many guns and fake-guns and fake-fake-guns and reading becomes a headache rather than a pleasure.

Guns that are propped obviously in front of the readers’ feet also distract from the building story.

Fire your gun.

Or don’t fire your gun.

But make sure that the gun builds a world or a story before the viewpoint shifts to the trajectory of a bullet.

IMG_0487Building the supporting structure of the story is as important as a fired bullet

This is a week about the role of illusions, plot, and puzzles in stories. Today’s entry brought to you by Chekhov’s Gun.

If you want to see how I apply Chekhov’s gun (note: no actual guns involved), my fantasy novel, The Guests of Honor, is available here.




2 thoughts on “Illusory- Chekhov’s Gun

  1. I find that a lot of it has to do with the way you word things. As I’m reading, I find that I can skim over some details just as giving personality to the scene, but others just feel more important based on how the author presents them.

    • This is absolutely true. I love reading stories where the writer’s style pulls the focus onto the important objects without explicitly saying, “Oh, look, here is a gun! Remember that I will need to fire it at some point!”

      Where it becomes a little harder is if the entire story is written using Chekov’s gun as a principle. I’ve read stories where everything that is mentioned, from the furrow between the main character’s eyes to the dent in the door knob, becomes an important clue for later on. While this can be a lot of fun to read, it very quickly becomes mentally exhausting and the reader really has to be primed to be paranoid about everything that’s mentioned.

      What I’ve found interesting in my own story is that the details people think are background and the details that they think are foreground can change from person to person. So if something is important enough, a little redundancy probably helps with this as well.

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