On January 11, 2020, Kasie and Rex took on the idea of Chekov’s Gun (ever detail included must matter). Here are the show notes:
Theme for the day:
- What is Chekov’s Gun?
- Why be a rule follower?
- News in the S.C. Writerverse
What is Chekov’s gun?
Per Wikipedia, Chekov’s gun is a principle of fiction that suggests every detail included in the story must be there for a reason, it must have a purpose.
“Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. 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.”
So there’s some stuff to unpack here.
First, is this true? In what mediums? Why?
Hemingway disputed it. He was a fan of inconsequential details despite admitting that readers will inevitably look for meaning in those details even if there isn’t any. So let’s unpack that.
What purpose would an inconsequential detail provide? Is there a rule on how many should be there? When does the reader get bored? When do they stop knowing the difference between the consequential and the inconsequential?
What are some examples of inconsequential detail?
What are some good examples of making those details matter?
So how do you put Chekov’s Gun as a principle into work in your own work?
This blog talks about a few key points. Among them:
What is the lesson behind Chekhov’s Gun?
The lesson behind Chekhov’s Gun is that your story should be cohesive. Each part should contribute to the whole in a way that makes sense. It does not mean that every single plot point of your story must be hugely significant. Some story elements function to create mood or describe setting. Yet each part of your story should correspond to the whole in at least a tangential way.
And who doesn’t love a list of specific instructions? So here it is:
Introduce a Chekov’s Gun-type detail in one of three ways –
- An unusual item or one that bears a specific significance (like violence)
- The narrator makes it significant by focusing on it
- Something out-of-context that calls attention to itself.
- Spotlight a sensory detail — smell, taste, etc.
- Spotlight a character trait — the thing the character has always been able to do that comes in particular handy when …
So with the “to do” list is always the “what not to do” list. Here’s that courtesy of the NowNovel blog (same as above):
- Get rid of false“guns” in your own writing. If you plot before starting to write, start searching for irrelevant guns in the outlining phase. If you make up your story as you go along, you must eliminate these oversignified elements when you revise.
- Remember that Chekhov’s gun refers not just to actual physical items. Scenes and characters, for example, can function this way. All the elements of a story must work together to move the story forward in significant ways. If they do not, then you must eliminate them. As another saying about writing goes, you sometimes must “murder your darlings” or eliminate some of your favourite parts for the overall good of the story.
- Use index cards or spreadsheets to identify the importance of major elements in each scene. Break down your scenes either before or after writing the first draft. Ask, ‘What is the overall significance of the scene?’ ‘What questions does it raise and answer?’ ‘Does it do more than one thing?’ ‘If it serves only a minor purpose, are there things you can do to make it more significant?’
- The principle of Chekhov’s gun can be particularly useful if you find yourself blocked while writing. Go back and take a look at what you have written so far. Do you see a “gun” anywhere in the story you might be able to use to pull the story together? Sometimes your subconscious will add things to a story that you will only realise the significance of later on.
SC Author news:
Thanks to literary publicist Chris Errol maw for this update:
The next Words and Wine – a Monthly Readers and Writers Social — will be held on Tuesday, January 21, 2020 from 6:00 – 8:00 pm at the Lourie Center, 1650 Park Circle, Columbia, SC
Enjoy a presentation and book signing by author Tom Poland.
Tom writes about the South, its people, culture, land, natural wealth, and beautiful detritus—ruins and abandoned places. He travels back roads looking for forgotten places, captivating people, and vestiges of bygone times. Much of that work finds its way into books, columns, essays, and features.
Tom will focus on his most recent books released in November and December of 2019 — Carolina Bays: Wild, Mysterious, and Majestic Landforms (Tom Poland and Robert C. Clark) and The Last Sunday Drive (Tom Poland).
Photographer Robert C. Clark will be in attendance, also.
Reported by Cathy Fitzgerald in the SCWA members page: On Thursday, January 16th, members of the Newberry chapter will be guests on The Coffee Hour beginning at 9:30. This is a wonderful opportunity to showcase our talented authors, so tune in to WKDK Newberry.
It’s not too late to set some New Year’s resolutions or goals for 2020 and our friend, Barbara Evers from the Greenville Chapter of SCWA has a great blog reminding us how to do this.
C Hope Clark is a finalist in the Jasper Project’s Artists of the Year event. Congrats to her! We could do an entire show on the importance of awards and contests. Being recognized like that is about establishing credibility. Cheers to her and her efforts.
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