P.S. Sorry in advance for the loss in productivity to anyone that clicks though and doesn't know what they're in for...
There is a category of story device that goes so far as to become more of a storytelling crutch. Or a wheelchair. Some examples from Star Trek that come to mind (since I'm re-watching TNG right about now):
- Holodeck: Totally new environments on a whim! Just in case FTL travel wasn't enough!
- Troi's empathy sense. Why script and act your way to communicate a character's emotional state when she can just tell you!
- Multiple-universes time travel. Why stick with an existing world and its background when you can just replace it!
- Technobabble. Solves any problem! Causes any problem!
- The Q. Omnipotence itself! To be fair, Voyager did manage to tell some better stories with this one.
Chekov's Gun can rarely, if ever, improve a story. While a lot of people seem to fall for Chekov's Gun, I don't think that those who are aware of it usually consider it to be a mark of a good story. At worst, it's obvious that the writer is bullshitting its audience. Chekov's Gun is just one of the many reasons why Abrams/Kurtzman Star Trek is basically on fire right now.
> - Multiple-universes time travel. Why stick with an existing world and its background when you can just replace it!
I don't think people are bothered by time travel plots because of the infinite possibilities to change the setting. They dislike time travel because it's usually too easy to travel through time, and shows or movies rarely adhere to any consistent time travel mechanics. Time travel stories are good at conveying high stakes, but they almost always lack any real consequences. When someone brings up time travel as a solution, nobody ever says "You know, the last time we traveled through time, we all nearly got killed and almost destroyed the universe."
* Star Trek Holodeck
* The various worlds in Sliders
* The infinite worlds in Rick and Morty means there are no limits to what can be written in.
* In Community, in a lot of episodes Greendale magically transforms in whatever setting is needed for the story: a court room where the murder of a yam is debated, a western/space battlefield where players duke it out for a grand prize, an entire city made of pillows and blankets, a zombie infested Halloween party etc.
The upside is anything goes, the downside is the perceived lack of consequences (especially in the extreme case of Rick and Morty).
I guess I'd see Chekov's gun as a subspecies of a more broad range of tactics you can use to introduce themes and events so they don't completely come out of left field when the reader arrives at them. If you don't do this, you risk particular events appearing surreal - for instance, if a character shoots another with a gun, did they seem like the kind of person to own a gun? If so, you're basically doing a light form of Chekov's gun anyway, and if not, you either have to put up with the fact its presence is weird and jarring, or put a stutter right in the shooting scene, slow down, and explain why the gun is here. Seems very practical to me - when you require a gun, it takes about ten seconds to go back in the narrative and place one innocently in some corner.
There's a really nice interview with some of the writers about "Tech the tech". Charlie Stross has it on his blog: http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2009/10/why_i_ha...
> At his recent keynote speech at the New York Television Festival, former Star Trek writer and creator of the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica Ron Moore revealed the secret formula to writing for Trek.
> He described how the writers would just insert "tech" into the scripts whenever they needed to resolve a story or plot line, then they'd have consultants fill in the appropriate words (aka technobabble) later.
> "It became the solution to so many plot lines and so many stories," Moore said. "It was so mechanical that we had science consultants who would just come up with the words for us and we'd just write 'tech' in the script. You know, Picard would say 'Commander La Forge, tech the tech to the warp drive.' I'm serious. If you look at those scripts, you'll see that."
> Moore then went on to describe how a typical script might read before the science consultants did their thing:
> La Forge: "Captain, the tech is overteching."
> Picard: "Well, route the auxiliary tech to the tech, Mr. La Forge."
> La Forge: "No, Captain. Captain, I've tried to tech the tech, and it won't work."
> Picard: "Well, then we're doomed."
> "And then Data pops up and says, 'Captain, there is a theory that if you tech the other tech ... '" Moore said. "It's a rhythm and it's a structure, and the words are meaningless. It's not about anything except just sort of going through this dance of how they tech their way out of it."
> Star Trek and its ilk are approaching the dramatic stage from the opposite direction: the situation is irrelevant, it's background for a story which is all about the interpersonal relationships among the cast. You could strip out the 25th century tech in Star Trek and replace it with 18th century tech — make the Enterprise a man o'war (with a particularly eccentric crew) at large upon the seven seas during the age of sail — without changing the scripts significantly.
> even though it's the opposite of real SF (a disruptive literature that focuses intently on revolutionary change),
There are many aspects to and levels on which SF functions. One is to explore humanity through a lens of a vastly different society because of technology and how this changed society reflects our own current implicit biases and assumptions. Stross likes to write this type of SF.
Another type of SF is to use very similar sociological and cultural constructs to how we currently function, but use the SF dressing to sneak past people's implicit biases. Want to tell a story about interracial or inter-gender issues, or immigration, or any number of things, without immediately triggering people's cognitive biases about these issues? This type of SF can be good for that. When done well, people accept a premise and the underlying reasoning behind it, and later one think "you know, that's not all that different that this real-life situation", or even don't think that, but it still affects their reasoning and thought process, because you've snuck some rationality past our all to common human cognitive foibles.
I can't imagine Stross doesn't get this, so he has some other reason for taking his stance. Perhaps he thinks the more complex re-imagining of society can do a good enough job for both types, but I don't agree. There are people that just aren't as interested in that stuff, and you lose those people. Also, it's much harder to do (as he notes, it requires a lot of planning and thinking), which means there's likely to be less stories using it, and less people finding a story they like.
IMO, there's definitely a place for both types of SF. Just be aware of which type you're about to consume if you have a preference at that time.
> - Stay away from tabbed browsing.
really good suggestion!
Chekhov's minimal, efficient, realist style is unique to him and complements his tone and content, but it's not a necessary condition for good writing. Consider Nabokov's short story Symbols and Signs (https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1948/05/15/symbols-and-si...) which is beautiful purely because of subtext and texture.
- Milieu: Stories about a setting.
- Character: Stories about a person.
- Event: Stories about an event.
- Idea: Stories that explore an idea.
Each one has a different point and appeals to a different set of people. What he stresses is focus on what type of story you are trying to tell and stick with that, revolve around that. I think that Chekhov's Gun falls under the similar idea.
One of my favorite authors Brandon Sanderson has a books series that is a character story; however he often talks about seemingly insignificant world building details that don't seem relevant to the story, but he always manages to tie them back to how it effects the characters or what impact it has on their personality. Thus even though some people would consider random religious observances in the story Checkhov's gun they instead add to the story because they flesh out the characters and help make them more real.
I read a paper recently where every figure made me ask a question that the next figure resolved. "Neurons specifically represent barriers! What happens if a door opens up and there is now a path? What happens if the barrier starts lowering into the ground until you can walk over it? What happens if it floats up into the air and you can walk under it?" It was truly beautiful.
But here's a thread that talks about movies/TV shows in which the gun was never fired:
> Lost was a Chekhov's Gatling gun
They littered the first few seasons with all these potentially mind-blowing things and events... and then just never did anything with them. At all.
It’s like they knew about Chekhov’s gun and deliberately decided to blow it off in the biggest way possible.
Speaking of Lost, I re-watched it with my SO last year because she had never seen it. It's weird how so much of the format has become the standard for network TV drama/adventure/mystery/scifi shows. There were multiple points where she just didn't see the big deal and I had to point out how there just weren't many shows that did things like this back then.
I checked TVTropes but it's not on the list of "Seinfeld is unfunny" examples. Same concept though.
I think many of the better movies out there are known for adding details that do not play into the plot, but which are there more for art's sake. It's something that is usually appreciated where it occurs, and it definitely improves the quality of the movie.
Westworld is one of my favorite shows because I think it accomplishes this very well (S01 and S02, not S03). There are a myriad of details, you get the feeling they'll be important but there's simply so much to keep track of that it's very difficult for it to become predictable and boring.
I think you're right, that westworld doesn't have a lot of superfluous details - but the degree of plot complexity required to make use of all the details it contains has led some critics to call it convoluted.
On the other hand, the Lord of the Rings trilogy - the movies are full to bursting with strange details that never make any difference to the story. Bilbo's birthday party is one immediate example - there's a bare minimum needed to establish some characters, and then on top of that are details just there for the sake of themselves.
The specific point about a gun seems even worse. It's cliche to show a gun early on that leads to some tragedy later, and bothers me when I see that done in a TV show/movie. It ties too much into an inanimate object when they could be developing a character. And in a lot of settings, guns are all around and have little to do with the actual story.
As soon as I saw DiCaprio's character putting a flamethrower away into his shed, I just knew that there would be some ridiculous climax featuring the flamethrower being used in some way, which kind of ruined the surprise and spectacle of the scene.
This random object can't be for nothing, it will be the linchpin later! Why would that street sign keep showing up if it wasn't incredibly important? Maybe the killer lives on that street!
(I remember an old blog post Eskil Steenberg I read years ago about game design and procedural generation that talked about this; specifically, about the difference in the feel of the game between making sure there's only one solution to every problem, or allowing for some degree of flexibility so that the player is sometimes able to achieve their goals in unexpected ways.)
Granted some things like "nobody liked him" could be still relevant to the overall story, but particularly in film or TV I find those bits of misdirection common, but also kind of annoying.
But it is just entertainment.
It's not a mystery per se but it deals with a lot of unknowns and protagonists finding out information that changes their world-view as they go through the story. It's a great trilogy/book.
ME: "Oh, you know that (x) is gonna (y) before this episode is over...they just have to! It's Chekhov's (x)!"
HER: :groan: :rolleyes:
Does any one actually think this is good? Do any good writers defend it?
I'd put it up there with canned laughter. A cheap hack. I'd prefer a world it wasn't needed because writers were good at their art.
I used to think that it would be nice to have characters and plots that didn't really matter in a story, until I saw it happen a few times and I didn't like it at all.
Guess he was on to something.