Chekhov’s Gun

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

And no, I’m not posting about Star Trek again.

Chekhov’s most famous advice for playwrights was that if a writer shows a loaded gun in act one, it should be fired by the end of the play.

It’s good advice.

But it’s also backwards.

What it should really say, is if you need a gun to be fired in act three, you should hang it on the wall in act one.

While that may sound the same, it’s not. One of the most useful pieces of advice I’ve read on the Internet from a published writer was that when he wrote a murder mystery, he had no idea that the butler would turn out to be the killer. He didn’t look at the clues he had put in the story and reliase at the end that the butler did it, he decided at the end that the butler did it, then went back and wrote in the clues required to prove that.

So there’s no need to get everything right as you’re writing the story. When you realise you’ve missed some essential setup, you just go back and add it.

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