Chekhov’s Gun

Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first act that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third act it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.

—Anton Chekhov
Minimalism and set-up. When you think about it, they both make for a powerful story. Cut away the extra bits. Stick with only what’s important. Yes, you may have a deer’s head mounted on the wall, but unless the head plays a legitimate role in your story…Take note of what Chekhov says. “If you say in the first act that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third act it absolutely must go off.” The gun must go off in the second or third act, not the first. Second or third. Tweak that a little for your novel. I assume most of you aren’t writing plays. The point remains that you shouldn’t introduce a gun only to have it go off immediately after. No one likes premature fire.Set aside details. No one wants a deus ex-machina (any artificial or improbable device resolving the difficulties of a plot). I’m looking at you Great Eagles.
However, let’s not get too carried away with Chekov’s gun. If you strip away every unimportant detail, you leave yourself with a bland story. Without extra details, you don’t know what your setting or characters look like. You can’t picture anything. Without adding all the random tidbits that define your character or his past, you create a robot. Lifeless.
Not to mention, if all details are significant in your utilitarian story, then the plot becomes obvious. If you see a gun, you know immediately that the gun is going off. You can reasonably assume that someone is getting shot. Maybe someone will even die. As I’ve discussed earlier (Why Writers Torture Characters), plot-driven mystery shouldn’t be a main focus. A story without some mystery is even worse, though.
Chekhov just wants to teach us that there is strength in details and in guns especially (what’s more dramatic than a gun?). Don’t flood your novel with useless descriptions. When something significant occurs in your novel, no one will bat an eye. Give enough detail to provide realism and imagery while only tingling a reader’s prediction as to what will happen.
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