Chekhov’s gun (and why it matters)

I’ve been rereading Senator and, as with Summit, I found myself a little hazy about some details of its complex plot.  Fairly early in the book, the senator comes across a gun in a drawer in his wife’s dresser.  And my first thought when I read this scene was: Yikes, I hope I didn’t break Chekhov’s rule about guns!

I don’t know if they teach this rule in graduate fiction-writing programs, but they should — it’s that basic.  And, wouldn’t you know, Wikipedia has an entry about it.  Apparently Chekhov stated the rule about four different ways, but his point is clear: If you introduce a gun in a story, you better use it before the story is over.  If you don’t use it, that’s not exactly a plot hole, but in some basic way you haven’t played fair with the reader (or playgoer).

The converse of this is also true: If a character uses a gun near the end of a novel, you better have introduced that gun earlier in the plot.  You can’t just say: “He recalled that his wife had a gun in a dresser drawer that she kept there for protection, so he went upstairs and got it.”

Of course, the rule isn’t just about guns.  In a meeting with his campaign staff after discovering the murder that starts off the novel, the senator notices a bruise on the arm of one of his trusted lieutenants.  If the narrator notices a bruise on someone’s arm, that bruise had better have some significance later on in the story.

So, did I break Chekhov’s rule in Senator?  Ha!  Wouldn’t you like to know!  Coming soon to an ebook store near you….

(By the way, any day now I’m going to start setting down my rules for writing.  None of them are as good as Chekhov’s gun rule, though.)

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8 thoughts on “Chekhov’s gun (and why it matters)

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