Wikipedia defines the phrase Chekhov’s Gun as a narrative principle that states that every element in a story must be necessary, and irrelevant elements should be removed. The original example recorded in letters by Anton Chekhov discussed a character who shot somebody, but the writer failed to explain to the reader where the gun came from.
Some writers disagree with this basic concept. For example, a Western has many armed characters, so there is no need to explain how a character obtained a gun. Another option is a story such as a mystery. It is intentional that there was never an explanation.
I have a unique problem with Chekhov’s Gun concept because I assume readers can read my mind. I leave LOTS of story detail that never makes it onto the page. The result has been negative feedback.
What is going on? In electrical engineering, there is a term “too close to the wires.” The designer is so focused on minutia (my first time using this word) that they miss the big picture. I get so focused on the story that I forget about the reader.
Missing details is a writing crime. A story must make sense; a single inconsistency will confuse or upset the reader.
How can I avoid this problem? I have stumbled across a helpful tool. I now develop all my plots with outlines. This high-level approach allows me to spot this exact type of problem. Yet, there are still minor issues that crop up.
To identify these little buggers, I now make one editing pass specifically to locate plot problems. This is one of the last passes because editing often introduces minor issues.
For example, in a book I am working on, the main character has a backpack with a walkie-talkie radio. So… Where did he get it? Umm? Fortunately, I caught that mistake in time.
However, I have another problem. In the above example, I still do not see the lack of explanation as a big deal. “Obviously, the character got the radio from somewhere. He probably found it in a drawer, or it was a gift. Nobody cares. No big deal.” It IS a big deal, and it is taking a lot of effort to change my outlook.
Does this mean that all writers must spoon-feed facts to the readers? I used to think this was bad writing, but I no longer do. It is the goal of a writer to provide facts entertainingly. Chekhov’s Gun exemplifies the importance of keeping the reader in mind and ensuring they are happy. You’re happy with this article. Right?
You’re the best -Bill
August 30, 2023
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