Chekhov’s Gun comes from the saying, “If in Act I, you have a pistol hanging on the wall, then it must fire in the last act,” although the version I heard was a bit different as it featured a table instead of a wall, and many variations exist. In any case, the lesson comes in foreshadowing and cohesion, and Anton Chekhov’s point was that every element introduced in a story should serve a function.
Essentially, Chekhov’s Gun means not making false promises or creating red herrings by introducing important details, elements, or themes without following through with a purpose for it. Why note it otherwise? Often mixed up with foreshadowing, which hints or makes a reader aware of a specific element or detail but doesn’t bring special attention to it.
But let’s clear up one more thing: Every single plot point or detail does not need to be massively meaningful. The blue curtains might not mean melancholy or depression, as I’ve heard so many students groan when we analyze stories in class. The elements or items must play a significant role when presented in a dramatic way or receives special focus.
More interestingly, Chekhov’s Gun does not have to be an item like a gun. Scenes, memories, and characters quirks, etc. can all be used in tandem to propel a story forward, and to keep from confusing readers, false guns should be eradicated. Even if they’re your darlings.
Personally, I come across these when I’m stuck writing. Details I don’t know are significant until I have a hurdle to get over often reveals a gun I didn’t know I placed on the wall—or table in my case—and my subconscious is far smarter than I like to give it credit for.
Okay, before I delve into my own uses too deeply (am I setting myself up here or what?), I want to show how this links to satire. Well, typically that focal point reflects the main cause for criticism. We take special note of facts, characters, and events in satire, so we highlight them in dramatic ways in order to make our arguments.
For instance, control is one of my big-hitter satirical notes as a sister to conformity. Once Ria wakes up as a vampire, she attacks her maker, drinking his blood and receiving a lecture about how his blood will not benefit her. Well, this serves two gun-like purposes.
One, control plays up throughout book one, but in a big moment, when Ria’s captured and held by the Assetato, they feed her a little girl. The on-going practice of wrangling her hunger, of maintaining control over the new animal inside of her, and trying not to hurt humans comes to a culmination when the child is offered to her. This also hits that satirical note of not letting what others do to her control her actions. She’s strong-minded and individual, and she will not conform. It’s a pretty consistent theme for me in each story I write, but it manifests in several, different ways.
And two, the emphasis on the benefits of paranormal blood becomes a serious issue in book two, CLAIMED, and if I’m being super honest, for the rest of the series, it grows into something that keeps control over her. See what I did there? Okay, cheekiness aside, her need for paranormal blood means a couple of drawbacks: she’ll need consistent volunteers—okay, maybe not a complete drawback given the three men in her life—and it also marks her as the anomaly she is. The scary bit is coming in book four, which I’ve just started drafting.
Much like the need and the control, this is a double-whammy gun moment. But Ria’s worst fears from the end of REBIRTH, book one, will finally come to fruition. Her secrets are going to be revealed, and she’s going to suffer the consequences of her birth. It should be an interesting and nasty experience.
Over the years, I’ve gotten a better handle on Chekhov’s Gun, but I wasn’t always so great at it. Naturally, writers seems to use this technique in some way to create twists and turns in a plot, but we certainly can generate more impact when we understand the usefulness of hanging that gun on the wall in Act I.
Let me know what you think of Chekhov’s Gun and how you use it in the comments below!
Happy reading and writing y’all.