Chekhov’s gun: a useful plot device.

Source:“Chekhov’s Gun: How to Use it When Writing Your Novel” by Glen C. Strathy. August, 2011. How to Write a Book Now.

Chekhov’s Gun is a plot device whereby you introduce an item in the first part of your novel that doesn’t seem important to the story at the time, but takes on greater significance later on. The principle was expressed by the great Russian playwright, Anton Chekhov, who said that if you put a gun on stage in the first act of a play, it should be fired in the second act. According to some sources, he also expressed this in the negative form as: don’t put a gun on stage in the first act unless you intend to have it fired in the second.

Some writers try to follow this dictate very rigorously and avoid mentioning any object unless it will play a major role in the story, but that is really taking things too far. It also makes the story a bit predictable, once the reader realizes that every minor item is going to be crucial later on.

I believe Chekhov used the example of a gun because a gun isn’t just any object. When you put a gun onstage, it automatically gets attention. Particularly in a live performance, the sight of a gun fills the audience with nervous anticipation because it is an inherently dangerous object. Of the many items you will mention in your novel, this principle applies only to the few that stand out.

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