Home > writing > Fire the gun, Mr. Checkov

Fire the gun, Mr. Checkov

No, not Pavel Chekov on Star Trek. But more on that in a minute.

There’s this new show on TV called The Good Guys. I like it, but that means it’s probably doomed. This one episode, it comes out that the washed-up cop lost his partner years ago because he convinced him to jump out of a moving car to save someone, and the partner could never get over the trauma. It was mentioned a couple of times. So you know what’s going to have to happen at the end.

I’m ashamed to say, I didn’t see it coming. Very ashamed. You know the new guy’s going to have to jump out of a moving car to save someone. Ashamed, I say.

Anton Checkov, the famous Russian short story writer  said in various forms if you display a gun early in the story, it has to go off by the end. And if you fire a gun nobody knows about beforehand, shame on you (okay, I made that up).

Beginning writers are told not to foreshadow. “Little did he know that disaster lay around the corner.” Bad. But we must foreshadow or the reader will be bushwhacked, so we plant little seeds that are only seen as foreshadowing in retrospect.

I read a Dean Koontz book recently (on my new electronic book reader, but that’s another story). The protagonist takes a gun from a dead bad guy and finds he has a backup gun in an ankle holster. Well, of course, he has the big gun taken from him later, but has the other in reserve. We remember it and think, “Boy, it sure was lucky he carried that with him.”

If the need had not arisen, the backup gun would be useless clutter and should have been stricken from the story.

By the way, I love endings that I should have seen coming, but didn’t. The Sixth Sense is one of my favorites. All the clues were there, but I didn’t see that Bruce Willis was a ghost. Great ending.

Moral of the story? Put in the necessary stuff and leave out the filler.

Easy for me to say?

Categories: writing Tags: , ,
  1. Shayla
    June 12, 2010 at 12:01 pm

    You know, I’m FREAKISHLY good at guessing what happens. Sixth sense, the Others, stuff like that. If you ever want to test the twist ending skills, I’m your gal. I agree that you have to put things into place for them to make sense later. This is a tool that can be awesome when refined. I have issues with that sometime. I don’t like it when someone is using a tool that you JUST now know about. Like, “He pulled out his swiss army knife that he always carried in his pocket just in case of an emergency like this.” VS “He pulled out his swiss army knife.” Anyway, I’m rambling again! 🙂 It’s early, what can I say!

  2. July 11, 2010 at 3:23 am

    they all say don’t foreshadow, but how many books do you read by popular authors who do—ummmm? Since the first time an editor told me to take one out, i’ve been very aware of them, and does anyone tell them to take them out. obviously not. Sixth Sense caught me to and I usually guest the ending in the first 10 minutes. my hubby hates it when i walk in, look at something he’s been watching to nearly the end and i tell him in ten who the bad guy is. i love it when someone surprises me.

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