"I had no respect whatsoever for the creative works of either the painter or the novelist. I thought Karabekian with his meaningless pictures had entered into a conspiracy with millionaires to make poor people feel stupid. I thought Beatrice Keedsler had joined hands with other old-fashioned storytellers to make people believe that life had leading characters, minor characters, significant details, insignificant details, that it had lessons to be learned, tests to be passed, and a beginning, a middle, and an end.
"As I approached my fiftieth birthday, I had become more and more enraged and mystified by the idiot decisions made by my countrymen. And then I had come suddenly to pity them, for I understood how innocent and natural it was for them to behave so abominably, and with such abominable results: They were doing their best to live like people invented in story books. This was the reason Americans shot each other so often: It was a convenient literary device for ending short stories and books."
(from Breakfast of Champions, by an author who often tells you the end in the beginning and puts the journey in the details)
I saw him do this bit in person in the early 90s and never forgot it.
But together they make this film not only amateurish, but it also gives it a certain kind of realism. In real life stuff happens and still may have no further relevance to the "story" after all. In real life there is nobody enforcing Chekhov's gun.
Together with the other charming mistakes and bad acting the film feels quite authentic. It gives this impression that someone just wanted to tell his story, despite not being as professional as we are used to.
Like a little child coming home from playing in the woods that excitetly blabbers out the story of what he just experienced.
I am wondering, however, whether there is some sort of plot bible that lives with the “keepers” of the storyline, or whether some details are just randomly sprinkled here and there as hooks with the hope that writers will weave them into the future plot.
Either way, this type of writing is extremely rewarding to long-time fans of a show.
"And you, daughter of London, there is something on your back." -- Lucius, the chief auger of Pompeii
That quote raises goosebumps on my arm every time I hear it...
I think overall this is the best way to use Chekhov's Gun: Introduce several things, but don't make it obvious how they're going to fit together.
The comment you’re replying to is correct; there’s plenty of evidence that Lucas made up both the plots and crucial details of all the Star Wars films as he went along, rather than plotting it all out in advance. Telling people he had, or at least allowing them to believe so, was just another inspired marketing trick.
One character being played by three different actors (either that, or three characters being so similar I confused them as the same character despite being three different actors) is hardly charming IMO.
Longer form stories, such as Game of Thrones (where Azor Ahai, and other such plotlines are literally killed off) are probably more entertaining. It sucks to see a fan theory turn out to not matter at all, but not everything ends up being relevant to the conclusion.
I don't think a 2 or 3 hour movie has any room to dwell on unimportant details. Anime and miniseries do have that time. We can watch Goku mess around with Princess Snake or Krillen get his Namekian power up (which doesn't matter for any fight, but is good development for the character in isolation).
That's probably the charm of Cowboy Bebop. There's so much detail and none of it really matters. The interesting story happened like 10 years ago (in universe time). That's be my pick for a show / story with very little Chekhov gun going on.
Chekhov gun is probably contrasted with Red Herring, which is explicitly a detail that not only doesn't matter, but purely exists to mislead the audience. Any Chekhov gun heavy plot needs red herrings to balance things out, otherwise it's too predictable.
There is also the McGuffin which appears to matter, but exists entirely to elicit character action. For instance, in “Psycho” the plot line about the stolen money is dropped almost as soon as it is established, but it did its job by getting Marion on the run and into the motel.
Hitchcock loved the MacGuffin, but Psycho isn’t the example I’d use. The money in Psycho is a useful plot device, but is not a MacGuffin. Money is too common ofna motivation. The briefcase in Pulp Fiction (which is of unexplained importance, but clearly something they want to obtain) is a classic example of a MacGuffin.
After all, its a Tarantino film. He basically expects the audience to be familiar with film theory (or at minimum: expects the audience to already be familiar with "typical plotlines").
Your typical action movie / popcorn movies: Raiders of the Lost Arc (The Arc of the Covenant), Mission Impossible (The Rabbit's Foot), and Men In Black (Orion's Belt), and pretty much every James Bond movie, has MacGuffins galore and are better examples of it.
The scriptwriter doesn't care about the MacGuffin. But a well written story has the __audience__ care deeply about it. Otherwise, the escalation and conflict has no purpose. Pulp Fiction / Tarantino used the briefcase as an exercise in how to make the audience care for an object, despite never really explaining why that object is the center of all this conflict.
Golden Fleece, Apples of the Hesperides (aka: Heracle's 11th task), Holy Grail. It doesn't really matter what these objects do, we just use them as storytelling devices to get the characters thrust into conflict.
I mean, I read that Lucas thought of R2D2 as the MacGuffin of “A New Hope”, and thought that it was important for the audience to care deeply about him. And it worked. However, as a film device, I think it’s more important that the audience cares that the protagonist cares about the MacGuffin. I still don’t know why I should care about the Maltese Falcon, but I know that Bogart certainly cared. And for me, that was enough to make the story compelling.
I do agree though about Pulp Fiction. The briefcase was a very meta reference where the audience is assumed to know what is going on. And in that case it helped to provide a common thread through the different plot lines. But from a higher level, it was done with a wink and a nod to the audience. It was basically using the MacGuffin as a foil to use as the “typical linear storyline” when what Tarantino was really doing was playing with time lines and points of view.
Of course not. Which is sort of the point. We already have real life. Stories are something different. Checkov's gun isn't a statement of some kind of platonic ideal of fiction construction, it's a convention. We like stories with "tight" framing because it's easier to watch and keeps our attention on the things that matter. And that's all it means.
You can tell other kinds of stories. Art is art. But if you want people to like your stories (or whatever other artwork you're producing) you'll probably be better served y adhering to convention and violating it in small, targetted ways than you will be throwing out long-held standard assumptions.
(Note that the fact that these conventions exist is itself ammunition for creativity, btw. A "realist" story where nothing necessarily matters is going to have a very hard time delivering a creative twist at the end. A conventional plot, though, can leverage the fact that the audience is conditioned to expect things based on rules like Chekhov's, and subvert those in interesting ways.)
On the other hand, building up readers' expectations with details that turn out to be irrelevant is just deception. See the last season of Game of Thrones, for instance. All those characters that were carefully built over the last seasons get discarded without any explanation.
There's sometimes stuff like that in Tarantino movie, like the outlaw lady in Django.
Basically, Shawshank clearly establishes itself as having a gritty, realistic tone, where shit happens for reasons that have no cosmic significance or relation to your epic hero arc. Specifically, when that prisoner turns out to be a witness who can clear Andy, and just suddenly gets shot by avaricious guards who don't care about the injustice. (If it hadn't been already, Red's final parole speech cements that tone.)
It's a huge betrayal of that when you turn around and say "oh man, if you just belieeeeeeeve in yourself hard enough you can somehow make a figurine carving tool last 100x longer than is realistically possible and accomplish major excavation work, it's all about your force of will".
(Similar complaint about Interstellar, which commits to hard sci-fi enough to include an expensive, photo-realistic black hole, and doubles back and resolve the plot with "ah man we just have to tap into the mysterious fifth-dimensional power of love!")
For example, suppose a character sends a spy to accomplish an objective. Meanwhile, another group of people are also trying to do this, which will benefit the main character, although the main character is unaware of this. The second group gets there first, and even though there was considerable buildup to the spy's mission, in the end, his presence doesn't matter (much).
If you want as lean a story as possible, you would cut out the spy's mission altogether, but its presence gives a sense of realism, because the character in the story doesn't know ahead of time that sending the spy would be redundant.
The junk adventure/vampire what not literature tend to follow all the structural rules and is as forgettable as it gets.
The argument with real life matter. Because when your storytelling rules make it impossible to tell real stories, then there is something wrong with them.
I think there are lots of different thinkers with this perspective, here is one concise formulation:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KPByuAeFxwE
The Disaster Artist is based on the book "The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made" by Greg Sestero, and it’s got James Franco portraying Tommy.
I think Tommy should always be a villain. You should never like him! He's this terrible person that on some level you despise, but at least he's interesting.
How many miserable jerks are there that won't shut up about their stupid film idea? How many actually follow through?
E.g. that the character is the kind of person who owns guns.
It does not go off or get used, but the viewer will use that as input to make a judgement about the character.
It shouldn't be taken as advice on movie production design.
Details that build characters is good. X has cancer is fine, albeit heavyhanded. Certainly enough of a characterization to work in low-plot action movies for example.
Not everything needs to be relevant to the plot. But I'm not convinced that a 2 hour movie has the room for this kind of storytelling.
Things that are "bad" like that are uniquely bad. It's not just annoying or purposefully bad, it's a side effect of a series of poor judgements that make it amusing.
The most revealing part was in a Youtube comment that explained the master's helper guy (who takes up a ton of screen time) was clearly on acid the whole time, which makes his totally unusual behaviours understandable for anyone who has tried that before. But still very very socially awkward and creepy.
If you're masochistic, download it from somewhere. If you're sadistic, have people watch it with you.
I'm not engaging in hyperbole when I call it ridiculously bad.
When people reading these novels, most of them wouldn't think of those runaway characters because there are many new characters and exciting plots. But it just strikes when people start to recall the plots sometimes after reading: one of the most important characters already foresee all of the conflicts, and they just run away and live their life rather than participating in the following conflicts.
It turns out, most of the novels are written by frustrated scholar-officials. They got burnt out in reality so they wrote those novels. Many of them would become hermits and enjoyed their life happily after. It sounds escapist but there's some Zen in it in the context of Chinese literature.
It feels like "The Shawshank Redemption" when it strikes me that the hammer was in the bible, and the most intensive scene was presented in a very calm way when people didn't know it.
I just got done reading the Three-Body problem which is translated from Chinese and there was a very strong escapist narrative which felt very strange for a westerner reading it.
This actually adds a lot of context as I felt the book didn’t live up to the reviews but I felt all along that it was down to cultural differences and the translation to English.
There are articles about the other linked concepts as well:
Of course there's a separate issue where a fictional work will artificially emphasize the importance of something and then ignore it. For example, people say something's impossible, then there's a close up shot of someone's face, he slowly says "It's not...I know a guy" and loud dramatic music starts playing. There, the creators are telling the audience that this is something important, and it will be odd if it's not followed through (though even then, I've seen some creators not follow through in interesting ways).
We see two characters talking for 45 seconds. Then a bomb goes off, that was under the table. The audience didn't know there was a bomb: big surprise; but the dialogue between the characters is completely irrelevant and eclipsed by the explosion.
Now imagine the same scene, but before, we see a terrorist placing the bomb under the table. Now the scene is totally different, and every word that comes out of one of the characters' mouth is fascinating. Does either one of them know about the bomb? Will they find out in time? Will they survive? Etc.
Suspense > surprise.
And your scene depends on the characters. Is one the main character? Highly unlikely he get killed.
It's even worse if it's a TV series. Main character is strapped to a bomb? No problem. Guest star is strapped to a bomb? Might get killed.
Unknown supporting role strapped to a bomb? Sure death.
I think that was part of GoT's success. Surprise deaths. And nudity of course.
If everything has a meaning even the chosen actor is important. Known actor in a minor role? Surely gets important.
At the beginning of the show. A few seasons in, lots of people developed plot armor.
I think a recent series which bucked this trend was For All Mankind. Rather than building suspense, bad stuff just happened with no warning. And it wasn’t a jump scare, it just happened. The entertainment for me then came from the characters reactions and how the plot then unfolded.
I actually class it as one of the best shows I’ve seen. I feel it managed to be very wholesome while also having some major emotional highs and lows. In particular, it didn’t build drama just for the sake of keeping the audience engaged.
I could talk about that show for ages.
Nobody is surprised, then subsequently asks no questions. The questions simply come after.
And so I imagine the sequence of when you want the viewer to ask their questions can be used as a literary device (famously, in media res).
Chekhov‘s Guns are important for short stories (which is what Chekhov was famous for), but short stories are not the only type of fiction and they don’t fit everywhere.
'knowing what will happen' is not in itself a limit on good literature. You know what's going to happen in every Shakespeare play long before you've seen or read it.
> Toadvine glanced at the man's forehead but the man's hat was pushed down almost to his eyes. The man smiled and forked the hat back slightly with his thumb. The print of the hatband lay on his forehead like a scar but there was no mark other. Only on the inside of his lower arm was there tattooed a number which Toadvine would see in a Chihuahua bathhouse and again when he would cut down the man's torso where it hung skewered by its heels from a treelimb in the wastes of Pimeria Alta in the fall of that year.
It's not really the gun on the wall, the bread knife, or the tattoo. It's the narrator revealing a kind of untrustworthy omniscience by spoiling future details of the story.
Jesus being a pederast doesn't have much of an effect on the storyline, but it provides context into the background of the character, so he's not just merely a competing bowler.
Another example of an even more seemingly irrelevant detail is when Jackie Treehorn starts sketching something on a pad upon receiving a phone call. When it's revealed to the audience what it is, not only is it surprisingly funny, but it hints at who Jackie Treehorn is. Maybe he's in his line of business because it means more to him than just a lucrative enterprise.
These kinds of "irrelevant details" are fairly common in films by the Coen brothers. When I think of their film Raising Arizona, I'm pleasantly reminded of how it's revealed that the evil nemesis just happens to have that same tattoo as HI.
IRL is probably more like the shaggy dog.
Of course today's times are very different. Our lives have so much content and immediacy now that is beyond Chekov's experience that people seek out exactly the opposite.
Still I think the way he carefully and deliberately constructed things has a lot to teach us. In the software world he'd be a builder of lean core libraries and a hater of the bloatware apps that use them.
Wikipedia cites it as a "dramatic principle", not merely a style. I've seen it advocated as "the way things should be done". That's why I think the contrast is important to note: it's not a principal of good writing, it's merely one style of telling a story.
The principle is more a guideline for new writers not to ramble and maintain focus especially if there are word limit restrictions typical to published short stories of the era, you cannot afford to waste words on things that don't matter to the story.
Established authors like Hemmingway or Asimov can get published with shaggy dog stories most regular authors cannot.
Even those authors can get a way once in a while, however most of the time they too have to follow the principle like everyone else too.
If you've not read it, don't read the plot summary, the [spoiler] is enormous.
Get the text, enjoy the story, love the wit.
For example, assuming a passage in a story where a protagonist enters person X's house and a particular room is described in much detail. The described detail does not necessarily advance the story but instead does "character building" hinting at the personality of person X. There literally could be a loaded gun hanging on the wall because X is a secluded hunter living in a cabin. Is this then a violation of the principle?
Edit: I've recognized the principle a few times, mostly in TV shows with lingering camera shots on seemingly unrelated objects, and as another commenter mentioned, it can frequently spoil a surprise twist. There is also a vague line between spoiling the twist and foreshadowing.
Yes. If the gun doesn't appear anywhere after its first mention, then it should not have been described. This is quite literally what Chekhov says, and I think he's right.
It works the other way too. In order for a gun to be used in a story, it has to have been alluded to before. A character cannot suddenly find a gun in their hand and use it in any significant manner. If they do, the audience will feel cheated and be upset. But avoiding this pitfall is super easy, all one has to do is just present the gun a few moments before it is needed.
It the final scene of "Sea of love" (1989), Pacino's character overpowers the bad guy with an object he finds under the bed. This object has been shown to the audience before. If it hadn't, the scene would not have worked.
Of course, rules exist to be broken... but do so at your own risk.
If something communicated neither character setting or plot then it should be cut.
I think the example of a gun is an extreme one. A gun on the wall isn’t just any old background detail, it’s going to grab the audiences attention, and hold that attention. It’s a serious distraction, far more than most other background details, an ominous threat of violence hanging over every scene it’s in. Whether you intended that as an author doesn’t change the fact that this is what it’s effect is going to be. If your going to put it there, you’d better have a plan for resolving the tension it’s going to create, whether it gets fired or not.
I’m not sure I entirely buy Checkhov’s point as a hard rule, sometimes your just doing a bit of world building, but I think he chose the example fo a gun on the wall as an extreme example. There’s no dodging that one.
Mindlessly following Chekhov's Gun, in my opinion, will always result in pulp fiction. Whether it's TV or novels, or movies. If you've stripped a story down to the bare basics, all you're left with is predictability that gives the reader an easy ride.
Not to say that's always a terrible thing. After a stressful day, pulp fiction can be the perfect way to relax. Most people have something mindless that they enjoy.
But it is incredibly rare that you end up with something truly great if you religiously follow the principle.
In The Lord of the Rings there are hundreds of "guns" hanging at the wall, which are not directly involved in this three books' story. But the reader feels that they are not only decorations. And the reader could do some research on Tolkien's work to find out about their story and importance for the characters' backgrounds. That makes the magic I believe.
It in no way follows, as you're suggesting, that Chekhov's Gun is some arbitrary inconvenience, or that you can gleefully ignore the amount of detail you introduce relative to the interesting bits, which is what a real rejection of Chekhov's Gun would entail.
Your purported counterexample recognizes as much: that yes, it's detail that doesn't have a shocking payoff, but which was still accomplishing something and which Tolkien certainly weighed against the "cost" of continuing said detail arbitrarily deep.
It really is an anti-pattern to equate, "oh yeah in some circumstances it's okay to break this rule" with "you will write a better story by completely ignoring all constraints of this rule".
I really don't think I said that, at all:
> Mindlessly following Chekhov's Gun...
> ... if you religiously follow the principle.
The takeaway should be that the principle, like all principles, is not universal, and isn't appropriate at all times. Nuance and consideration should be part of writing.
I think you'd have a hard time finding a Chekhov short story that you can dismiss as an 'easy ride' or 'pulp fiction' and many of them are very, very short.
I liked the descriptions of landscapes and cityscapes in Jonathan Franzen novels. They have the earnest and surreal feel of a diorama in a museum. I like dioramas for some reason.
My personal favorite is how in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, the "gun" is a dog.
About as Chekhov's Gun as it gets.
I wouldn't say that leaving frequent references to the depth and age of the world, and then filling in the Legendaria in note form for the rest of your life, is much related to this concept. If a sword hanging on the wall belonged to an ancient hero, already dead, and known to everyone in the scene, a paragraph with "Here is hung Such-and-such, the bright blade of so and so with which he did $mighty-deed" doesn't have to carry any more weight in the story. There might be a whole book or chapter about so and so, there might not be.
> the movie says, ‘This is a true story.’ They put it in there because it ‘happened.’
Growing up I had many, many interactions with people who were amazed that not only did my dad travel to Chicago 4x a week, my entire family visited Chicago at least once a month. The reaction in this small town was something like "Wow, you went to CHICAGO last weekend!?!"
Many of these people had never been to the world-class city that was 90 minutes away and easily accessible. Especially now, with the various high profile news stories coming out of Chicago (two police officers shot in the head in the last month, lots of gun violence, etc) the fear of "the big city" is pervasive (and somewhat understandably so). Many people view "the big city" as inherently vicious, wicked, evil, etc and again, somewhat understandably so (from their perspective) especially considering other random acts of violence . That said, having never been there Chicago seems so distant and otherwordly that it might as well be Kabul. Many people (quite literally) view Chicago as a war zone. Needless to say, violence and crime to this level are (essentially) complete unheard of in small town life.
I think the trip to Minneapolis to visit an old classmate reminded Marge of the "wickedness" and "evil" that exists in the world and caused her to reframe her thinking and approach to people and what they are capable of even though she had just seen the bodies of multiple people who had been murdered. Especially considering that even as a police officer Mike was able to successfully hide the darker portions of his life from Marge in their brief interaction even though most people would know immediately that something wasn't right with him. Marge likely had a realization that her "small town" perspective (and resulting approach to interviews, investigation, etc) needed to be re-framed. This can be seen in her subsequent interview with Jerry where she is much more aggressive and skeptical.
Our instructor then explained the scene with, "anytime something is talked about three times in a scene or play, it pretty much is immediately invoked into being."
Nothing was better for me in helping me understand the art of storytelling than the 6 months or so I spent there. You hear about the 'rules of stories' and whatnot, but it's not until I was up on stage, grappling with it, that that whole world started opening up. I don't know anything better other than actually studying it in school.
Ignoring the rules just makes for harder-to-watch scenes, you just can't make sense of the why.
What is very bad advice is: "if you show a gun it has to be used". If every gun ever shown in any film was used wouldn't this destroy the tension? Also guns can take on different functions within stories than just a device to kill. They can tell us something about the protagonist (how do they react to the presence of a gun), they can underline powerful moments (e.g. throwing away a gun in a though situation because the character gives up etc).
Functionalizing every element of a story is a good way to rob it of any life. In art a lot of elements work in different, more complex ways than just a functional causal relationship. Think about gazes in paintings etc. Things just signifying themselves and expressing a general mood can be immensly powerful.
Reality is full of false promises.
So why not in fiction as well, Mr. Chekhov?
Why does an author owe his readers consistency or coherence?
Make it Lynchian.
People love to puzzle over mysteries.
Just sell it as one.As a mystery.
They'll build in the wrong and unnecessary parts themselves.
> Reality is full of false promises. So why not in fiction as well, Mr. Chekhov?
Well, as Mark Twain said: It's no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense.
Of course a false promise is fine, as long as you subvert the expectations with something more interesting. But just adding details with no purpose is bad writing.
It's a mixed bag. Lost was a Rorschach test for which side a person falls on: some loved the unresolved mysteries and made, others got tired of questions that never got answered and quit watching entirely because of it.
If everyone leaves the room and the camera zooms in on a piece of furniture then you would expect that piece of furniture to have some sort of importance or role to play later. If, as a character is leaving a room, a piece of trash falls out of their pocket and the camera focuses on that piece of trash then you expect that detail to be important to the plot later.
But for creative works, any rules / razors should be mere reference, in the end it's all about senses.
We did a hard target search, finding a neologism, but nothing else.
It eventually turned out the MacGuffin was just a Red Herring, and the whole thing was a Shaggy Dog Story.
The whole book feels like Chekhovs gun but it is fun to read!
(I haven't finished it)
Camera zooms in on a pistol that someone pockets. Therefore, that pistol will be used later.
It happens in nearly every movie made since the 60s.