Reflection: Chekhov’s Gun

One of my favorite tropes to use in my stories has always been Chekhov’s Gun.  Chekhov’s Gun is not a literal gun, but rather, an item that is mentioned early in the story, and initially doesn’t appear to be significant, but becomes a very important plot element much later.

The trope was named based on a quote from a Russian writer Anton Chekhov.  He advised writers remove everything that isn’t relevant to the story.  Thus, if an author states that a gun is present in a scene, it should be fired by the end of the story.  I’m not sure that I completely agree with this.  Sometimes, otherwise irrelevant details can add depth to the world of the story, or be intentionally added as a red herring, but that’s not exactly relevant to this reflection.

The point is that when I use Chekhov’s Gun, I make mention of something that becomes important later early on.  I usually do this in such a way that it doesn’t seem super-important, like making a passing reference in dialog, or a description of a scene.  You can read more about it on Wikipedia or TV Tropes (and find a number of examples on the latter), but right now, I should probably move on to my personal reflection of it.

Please note that a Chekhov’s Gun does not have to be a literal gun (though it often is).  It can be any object, or even a location, character, character’s hobby or skill, or some minor detail in backstory that turns out to be important later.

This trope naturally requires planning to use.  I mean, I can’t reference something to be used later, unless I know it will actually be used later (or at least think it will be important later – I can always remove the reference if I decide otherwise, but if it’s minor enough, it should be okay to just leave in).  Of course, I can also just add references to later events on a revision or a rewrite, but I feel this can make them seem a bit forced; a bit more obvious that it’s somehow relevant.  If I consider it while I’m writing, I find it easier to come up with natural places to mention it.

I’ve even seen Chekhov’s Guns that span multiple books in a series, like in Harry Potter.  In the fourth book, Dumbledore makes a passing, and subtle, reference to the room of requirement, something which, of course, becomes an important plot element in the later books.  When I wrote Swogprille, I definitely made use of this quite often.

However, it seems like Chekhov’s Guns can easily be missed by many readers.  The initial reference can be easily forgotten by the reader prior to the time that it becomes important.  Most readers do not remember every seemingly insignificant detail (you know how I feel about that).  However, they can easily be picked up on rereads, a treat for those who already know what happens, to make them realize the author really did plan ahead.

In a series, they can be slight clues as to future events, foreshadowing, for an observant reader to find.  Of course, it can be difficult for them to distinguish which mentioned items will be actual Chekhov’s Guns, versus which are red herrings, or simply mentioned to add more depth to the world.

Aside from that, using Chekhov’s Guns can also help to make something less of a deus ex machina (when the plot is resolved by something that seemingly comes out of nowhere), as it was mentioned earlier, and thus, doesn’t come completely out of nowhere.

I’ve always been a fan of using this trope.  Pay attention to the details in Evaira, they’re all over the place in those stories.  They’re just a lot of fun to include, and can create subtle hints for the reader as to what will happen next.  Anyway, I should probably go start to prepare my reflection for next week now.  Until then, White Rakogis is signing off!

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One thought on “Reflection: Chekhov’s Gun

  1. Pingback: Reflection: Details | White Rakogis's Lair

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