Friday, June 4, 2010

Literary Devices Part 2: Chekhov's Gun



It's seems I'm doing a series on plot twists and literary devices. Check out my first one on the Deus Ex Machina in which I make several false statements which I'll outline on this post. Sorry about the mistake, but I'm learning along the way too.

Hey, it's a blog, not legal document! Here are your grains of salt (...) :)

I'm learning along the way, so I appreciate the comments and support!

Anyway, on to Chekhov's Gun. It was so named after Anton Chekhov (no, NOT the guy from Star Trek) the Russian writer, playwright, and physician who once said, "Medicine is my lawful wife, and literature is my mistress."

Anywho. He did say in a few letters, that "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."

Chekhov's Gun eventually came to mean an object (or person) which seems insignificant or unclear, but later becomes a crucial element of the plot.

So my mistake from the earlier post?

The eagles saving Frodo and Sam at the end of LOTR is more of a Chekhov's gun. They are mentioned earlier a few times in the book but it's unclear how they will take part in the battle of good vs evil.

And in Harry Potter? Fawkes is kind of a Chekhov's gun too. We meet him early on, but he just seems like a fancy, mythical office pet. Actually, HP is filled with Chekhov's guns. The snitch, Mrs. Figgs, the locket...there are more I'm sure, but I can't remember them all!

Do you have a Chekhov's Gun in your plot?

53 comments:

DL Hammons said...

Absolutely! I write mysteries, so this technique is almost my bread and buttet. The trick is to not bury it too deep or making the period of time between introduction and relevance too long so the reader doesn't remember the hint.

Good post!

Giles said...

I do. It's not quite the same or as clever as the other things you mentioned, but I have at least one in my WiP and two in the finished novel.

Mary McDonald said...

I do, now that you mention it. In the very first paragraph, I mention a photo that the mc looks at, then puts in his pocket. Much later, that photo is used to insinuate some nasty things about him. It's not really a plot twist though, more of just another way to twist the thumbscrews.

Bee said...

Ha!You come up with such interesting things!
Hmm.. *ponders if her story has Chekhov's Gun*

Aubrie said...

Sometimes I have to go back and put one in! But I always worry if it will fit naturally in the story. The eagles were a bit of a strange surprise for me at the end of LOTR.

Slamdunk said...

I appreciate writers who are able to weave this concept into a story and make it look seamless.

The few projects that I have done where one would be useful, I think of these things later and then try to insert them into a project--and a reader can certainly tell.

Karen Amanda Hooper said...

All the time! I love hiding fun things like that in my stories. :)

Jaydee Morgan said...

This is a great plot device but does need some planning to pull it off in a good manner. I'm hoping to do this but time will tell if it works.

Love the grains of salt ;)

Joanne said...

I've never heard of Chekhov's Gun before, but it's so true. I guess it's part of the whole writing idea that everything must advance the story, in some way, or out it goes!

storyqueen said...

I usually put a lot of random stuff in that (at the time I write it) I am not sure why....then towards then end it becomes more clear and the gun(s) get to go off.

However, sometimes I realize that the gun didn't go off, and I need to get it out of there because it serves no purpose.

Also, I kind of like the idea of Star Trek's Chekov's gun...wouldn't it be a phaser?

Tahereh said...

wow so cool! i'd never even thought of it like that.

great post, Lydia!

Sandy Shin said...

I never knew about Chekhov's Gun -- this is definitely good to know.

And, for a moment, I laughed at your comment that, no, this Chekhov isn't from ST, as that was the first thing that jumped to my mind. :)

Mayowa said...

Great post Lydia...

The wonderful thing about these is that you can work em in as you go along.

Every time someone or something (a gun) changed the dynamics of my story, I went back to make sure I mentioned them earlier (hanging on the wall).

Saumya said...

No, I do not, but now I wish I did!! That is such a cool idea; thanks for sharing!!!

Roland D. Yeomans said...

I think of Chekov's rifle to be in the same vein as the movie's trick of placing "Easter eggs" in plain view, yet hidden from direct sight.

Mark Twain wrote that fiction, unlike life, must make sense. In life, we are assaulted with so many things that never come back to us again or have any meaning.

Fiction is more like a tapestry in which the threads all interweave to form a pattern. And if a thread doesn't do that, it hurts the over-all effect.

Have a great weekend, Roland

Erica Mitchell-Spickard said...

Hi! Thanks for following :) I've got you linked in my blog roll now, yay!
Yes I have a few of them guns in my first chapter and a few have misfired (whoops) but I'm still learning. Mine isn't really an object but a butterfly, not one in particular but what they stand for and how it moves these characters around until the reader figures out how this little thing is changing lives. I know it makes no sense, yet!
Recently I read one in Beautiful Creatures (awesome) and it was a locket that was the key to the final, erm sorta, mystery.

Rachna Chhabria said...

Great post Lydia. I never thought of it that way, but, yes I do have Chekhov's gun in my WIP. Actually more than one.

Janet Johnson said...

Great thoughts. Yes, I have several Chekhov guns, and a few I took off the wall. :)

Connie said...

One of the things I love about writing is when I figure out that I need that gun, I often discover that I already planted that gun on the mantlepiece without even realizing that I'd need it later. Then all I have to do is pick it up and shoot it. Such fun!

Kenda said...

I do have a Chechov's gun in my WIP but after reading this, I'm inspired to go back and see how well it works--and consider how to weave it in even better. Thanks, Lydia! This is really a helpful post.

E. Arroyo said...

Great post! I like when things connect and sometimes in writing it may seem unintentional, but your mind knows that you can use that character or prop somewhere else and then AHA!! Oh, the cleverness of me. I stole that line by the way. =-)

Cynthia Reese said...

I love stories that are structured like this -- circular structure, where you work back around to that inconsequential thing at the beginning that now is the key to the whole thing. Harper Lee used this in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.

Lisa Gail Green said...

I love it! Yes, having a "Chekhov's gun" makes the book better. But if you decide to leave it hanging on the wall, you better be careful how it is done!

Lindsay (a.k.a Isabella) said...

Oooo interesting. Having read this I realised I too have a "Chekhov's gun." Although I am going to check how well it works. :)

Karen Lange said...

Not yet, mostly b/c my WIP is still in the research stages. Appreciate the food for thought. I will remember this, thanks:)
Have a great weekend,
Karen

Nicole Murray said...

"Chekhov's gun" is one of my favorite plot devices and have used them often. I am a firm believer in using all that's put out in a story. It makes a tighter story when all is useful knowledge/details and I like those details/etc to have dual use if I can.

I have a few big ones in my WIP Ghost Mountain that have me giddy just thinking about them.

Vicki Rocho said...

Methinks your gun is having an identity crisis. hahahaha.

My husband never picks up on those cues. I always wonder why they introduce characters or elements...and it irritates me when there's someone in the book/movie with no obvious purpose. Grrr

Happy Friday!

elizabeth mueller said...

Hi! Thanks for this post. Yes, the first thing I thought of was Star Trek! LOL...

Interesting that you'd write about that, I'd never have thought of it. :)

notesfromnadir said...

The guy from Star Trek was named after this marvelous playwright.

All decently written books have this device--especially mysteries. Movies, too.

B.E. Sanderson said...

Interesting post. I never thought of it that way either. I always came at that quote from the other direction - which is 'don't put something into your story if you aren't going to use it later'. (i.e. Don't mention the gun if you aren't going to fire it.) Thinking about it now, I do try to leave a few guns lying around to tie back in later. Thanks for showing me another perspective. =o)

Susan Fields said...

Thanks for a great explanation. I do sometimes make mental notes when I'm reading like, "I wonder why that mentioned that, I wonder if it will come up later." And then I always forget to go back and see if they actually used that thing or not.

Olivia Carter said...

Neat, very true. I have ALL SORTS of Chekhov's Gun's in my books. Probably too many :)

Natalie said...

I always thought the eagles in LOTR were a Deus Ex Machina too, so don't feel too bad. I didn't realize they were mentioned before the end. It's been a long time since I've read them.

My Chekov's Gun is a can of mace. It seems silly when my MC's dad gives it to her, but then it comes in handy.

Heather said...

Hi Lydia, Thank you for stopping by Heather's Odyssey and following. I love your blog! Glad we found each other. As for Chekhov's gun, I'm a firm believer that if something doesn't advance your story or character development in someway, it doesn't belong in the novel! Great post!

Stephanie Thornton said...

I always try to keep Chekov's gun in mind- it's a great tip. My first draft of my first book was littered with stuff that never showed up again (no guns though, not in ancient Egypt). Thankfully, I got them all weeded out.

Krispy said...

Not really sure if I have one yet, but I'm sure something will become one eventually. I like it when it's done well - you notice the Gun but don't think much of it, but there's also enough set-up that when it comes into use, you don't feel cheated.

See, the Harry Potter examples are generally good ones. But the eagles in LOTR. That felt more deus ex machina -ish.

Zoe C. Courtman said...

Yep - I have a couple of those suckers in my MS. And I hope they're turning out decently. (Nothing more embarrassing than a Checkhov's gun "misfire".) Great post!

Southpaw said...

I’ve seen them in books all the time but never knew what they were called.

Mary Aalgaard said...

Yes, I've heard of this, too. We need to set our scenes with useful props. Thanks for connecting with me. Your blog looks great! What an interesting combinations of hats you wear!

Nicole MacDonald said...

Yep! I do. I just have to keep a track of them all *grin* sometimes they're mentioned so fleeting that even I forget them!

lbdiamond said...

Yup, Chekhov's gun is a great literary device! Ever hear of a MacGuffin? Check it out! ;)-

Samantha Bennett said...

I love speckling my stories with Chekhov's Guns. Makes me feel sneaky and SO in the know. :)

Melissa said...

I love chekhov's guns! And I also love all these little drawings you include with your post. Great post, by the way.

Theresa Milstein said...

Great post! I love using Chekhov's Gun. That's the nice part of being a writer with a rough draft. You can put the device in earlier and surprise people later. Or think of it later and add it.

Slushpile Slut said...

Informative post!!! I'm working on my Chekov's gun! Loved the quote about literature being his mistress...Awesome!

Alexandra Crocodile said...

Very informative - I was unaware of that term. I suppose they're akin to red herrings in a way? I write mysteries, so I guess I use Chekov's gun a lot:)

subservient-husband said...

Just a suggestion, sometimes if every item with a description has subsequent significance, it threatens to make the plot predictable. From the readers perspective, it is a tricky balance to keep us in the dark w/o letting on about future plot turns.

Melissa Sarno said...

Love your literary devices posts so far. I think I have a few of those guns. Sweet.

Solvang Sherrie said...

I'd never heard of Chekov's gun, but as a reader, I love discovering things like that in books so I try to have them in mine too.

Munk said...

Excellent post. I am thrilled by device rich plots.

A Pen In Neverland: Angela Peña Dahle said...

Clever post! I'm going to have to tweet it or something!

Kerrin said...

wow, hadn't even been aware there was a term for it. I'm sure i have one somewhere now that you mention it - i know i will be using them more consiously from now on ;)!

Matthew MacNish said...

I can't believe I missed this! Well done Lydia.

 
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