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.)

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

  1. Pingback: In which I harmonize with NCIS Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs | richard bowker

  2. Pingback: Two pianists, talking and remembering | richard bowker

  3. Pingback: Coincidence? I think not. | richard bowker

  4. Pingback: “I could kill you now, Detective Bosch. But that would be too easy.” | richard bowker

  5. Pingback: What you can do when you’re not writing | richard bowker

  6. Pingback: “The Kiss” and Chekhov’s Gun | richard bowker

  7. Pingback: “Birdman” and Chekhov’s Gun | richard bowker

  8. Pingback: Chekhov’s hunting rifle; Chekhov’s ornamental sword | Richard Bowker

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.