Chekhov’s Gun is a literary technique, used to describe the principle that every story element must be necessary, and irrelevant elements should be excluded.
It is often used to remind writers to avoid mentioning inessential background details or characters at the beginning of a story, since they may prove important later on.
If they do not prove important, such elements are said to have been fired like bullets from Chekhov’s gun, producing a sort of suspense.
The principle is widely cited as “if you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off”.
What Is chekhov’s gun?
Chekhov’s gun is a dramatic principle that states that every element in a story must be necessary, and irrelevant elements should be removed.
According to Chekhov’s gun, if an author introduces something in the first act of a story, it must be required by the end. If it isn’t relevant to the plot or character development, then it should be taken out.
Chekhov’s gun is often mistaken as a device that only refers to physical objects. However, Chekhov stated that the principle can apply to characters, actions, and anything else in a scene.
The concept was developed by Anton Chekhov, who was a famous Russian writer. The concept was an idea for ensuring that all elements in the story were necessary and important.
He had developed a style of writing in which he didn’t include unnecessary items or events in his stories. If the item wasn’t needed, he believed it should not be included in the story at all.
To understand what Chekhov’s Gun is, one must first understand what it isn’t. It is not about predictability when it comes to the plot of a story.
In fact, many consider this to be an anti-predictability concept.
If you are trying to make your readers or viewers think they know what will happen next, they will enjoy your story more if they don’t guess correctly.
What Is Chekhov’s Gun?
The term was coined by Steven M. Bryan in his book Literary Terms: A User-Friendly Guide (1981), although he attributes it to the playwright Anton Chekhov.
In the novel and stories, you must not put in anything which does not later lead to something else, for otherwise the reader will feel lost and disappointed. In a novel, everything, without exception, must be necessary.
The Russian author dealt with this issue in his own writing in an 1896 letter to his brother Alexander:
In my opinion one of the greatest tasks an author has is that of making
Chekhov’s Gun is a dramatic principle that states that every element in a story must be necessary to the story. In other words, every detail included in a story has a purpose.
This is a very useful tool for writers because it helps them make sure that everything they write has a role in telling the story, even if it’s not immediately clear what that role is.
Chekhov’s Law is named after Anton Chekov, who wrote a short story called The Lady with the Dog where he describes his writing principle as such: “If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off.
“If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.”
In other words, every element of your story should have an impact on your plot. A character might seem extraneous at first glance, but as you continue writing and add more details about your characters, you might find ways for them to contribute to your plot later on.
And don’t think that Chekhov’s Law only applies to novels—it can also be applied to short stories, essays and anything else.
Chekhov’s Gun Reversing The Gun
If you’ve taken a screenwriting class, you’ve probably heard of the term Chekhov’s Gun. The idea is simple: if you introduce a gun in the first act, you have to use it in the third.
It’s a rule of thumb to help writers remember that they should make sure all their plot elements are relevant and necessary.
What’s less well known is an inverse of Chekhov’s Gun called Chekhov’s Reverse Gun. This idea was coined by Ben Hillier to help reverse engineers identify parts that are unnecessary in a new product.
Let me give you an example. Let’s say I’m reverse engineering a new mp3 player. I look at the circuit board and see this:
I notice there’s no DAC chip on the board, which means audio is coming from somewhere else in the device. After taking out some screws I find this:
It turns out the entire circuit board is just for show. It contains no functionality other than to make it look like there’s a complex electronic device inside and it has no power cable because power comes directly from the real guts of the device, which are hidden inside the housing.
History Of Chekhov’s Gun
History of Chekhov’s gun is a dramatic principle that states that every element in a story must be necessary and irreplaceable, or it shouldn’t be there at all.
It’s based on an anecdote about Anton Chekhov, who supposedly said (in Yiddish): “If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.”
A subplot should only exist if it advances the main plot or gives insight into one of the main characters, otherwise it should be removed. Similarly, dialogue can advance the plot or reveal character — but only if it’s necessary and relevant to advancing either plot or character.
History of Chekhov’s gun is also sometimes used outside of fiction writing, as a criticism of works that include elements that seem interesting but ultimately don’t add anything to the work as a whole.
Chekhov’s Gun vs Foreshadowing
Foreshadowing means to give subtle clues about something that you are going to reveal later on.
This is a trope in a lot of stories. It is best used to give the reader an indication that something is going on, but not to provide enough information for them to have any idea what it actually is.
These days, foreshadowing is often used to hint at twists and turns that are coming up in the story, or even as a way of giving hints about how things are going to end up (either for the good or the bad).
As with most literary devices, foreshadowing can be used in a lot of ways and for a lot of reasons. It can be used for comedic effect or it can be used to build tension and anticipation about what is going on.
It can also be used to give readers a clue about what kind of story they are reading and how it’s likely to progress.
Chekhov’s Gun, on the other hand, refers to making sure every part of your story has some purpose or serves some sort of narrative function.
If you introduce some element into your story then it needs to have a reason for being there and should have some importance later on in the story.
How Is Chekhov’s Gun Used In Writing?
In the world of fiction, there is a literary technique that has been used for hundreds of years called Chekhov’s Gun.
This is particularly effective in short stories because it adds tension and excitement.
Treating a gun as if it were a character in your story can increase the effectiveness of this technique.
What Is Chekhov’s Gun?
Anton Pavlovich Chekhov was a physician and playwright who began writing in the late 19th century. He is best known for his short stories in which he used this technique to help create suspense during storytelling.
The term itself was coined by screenwriter Mel Brooks, who was referring to an anecdote that Chekhov told about a gun hanging on the wall in one of his stories.
In response to an audience question about why there was no need for such an object in any of his stories, he replied that he needed it for future use.
The term “Chekhov’s gun” has since come to represent anything that is introduced into a story or play with deliberate foreshadowing and significance beyond.
How Is Chekhov’s Gun Used In Screenwriting?
Have you ever watched a movie and wondered why something was included in the script? Chekhov’s Gun is used to ensure that every detail in a story or scene is necessary – that every line of dialogue, action, or prop adds to the plot.
Taken from the writings of Anton Chekhov, the gun refers to what was included in a scene – the gun itself – but also what was left out – namely, the bullet.
In many cases, screenwriters are using Chekhov’s Gun to make their stories more interesting. In other instances, though, it can indicate that a writer has tried to include too much.
The bullet can get lost if it’s not fired at the right time. It’s easy for writers to think they have included everything they need when in fact there are still loose ends that need to be tied up.
What makes Chekhov’s Gun so effective is its ability to make viewers feel as if they are part of the story.
The phrase suggests that an element of suspense is missing if there isn’t an action or event that leads up to an outcome. In essence, it forces viewers to ask the question: What came before? What will come next?
Examples Of Chekhov’s Gun in Literature
Chekhov’s Gun is a literary technique that was developed by Anton Chekhov. It’s the idea that every element in the story should be necessary to the plot and if any element is unnecessary, it should be removed.
Taken from Wikipedia: The rule of the gun has three basic principles: everything in the story must be necessary (and nothing useless), every gun must be loaded (and no pseudo-Guns), and at least one gun must be fired (or no-one will believe there was ever a gun).
These are just some examples of how this rule has been applied in literature:
Chekhov’s Gun – A Literary Technique In Use Everywhere
The title of this post is a clever play on words using Anton Chekhov’s famous writing technique.
The idea behind this technique is to only include details that are relevant to the story; any irrelevant details are left out.
In real life, we use this technique all the time without realizing it. For example, if you were reading about a character walking into their home for the first time, you would expect them to close the door behind them before sitting down.
You wouldn’t expect them just to walk through an open door into their living room.
Examples Of Chekhov’s Gun in Film
Chekhov’s Gun theory can be applied to many other forms of storytelling including film, TV, and books.
It basically states that any detail or information given in a narrative should have relevance to the plot or character development.
The name comes from Anton Chekhov’s short story “The Bet”, where a man puts a rifle on the wall and says “If I don’t pay up by the end of the week, I’ll shoot myself.”
Although we never see this happen in the story, we know it will because Chekhov has set it up as one of his dramatic principles.
Examples Of Chekhov’s Gun In Film:
In Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Obi Wan Kenobi is given the task of watching over Luke Skywalker on Tatooine.
We later find out that he has been keeping Luke safe because he believes there is good in him and needs to be found.
In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azk
Unfired Chekhov’s Gun Examples
Unfired Chekhov’s Gun refers to a story element that was introduced but never explained. In literature, this is also referred to as an anvil .
The idea behind it is to avoid introducing unnecessary elements into the story, unless they have a bearing on the plot or character development.
*The first use of the term “unfired Chekhov’s Gun” occurs in the September 20th, 2005 episode of the film podcast The Big Picture with Sam Adams , in which Adam Kempenaar and Harry Ship talk about their disappointment with Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith after having enjoyed Episode II: Attack of the Clones .*
In his column for The Guardian on November 27th 1979, Anton Chekhov wrote about concealing elements in storytelling, stating “If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.”
This quote has since been paraphrased numerous times to refer to what happens when an element is brought into a story without being used later. This term has since been used by writers and critics of media, referring to any element that seems integral to a story.
Using Chekhov’s Gun For Subversion
Chekhov’s gun is a dramatic principle that says every element in a story should be necessary to the plot. No gun on the wall should ever go unused, or the presence of that gun may diminish the tension of a scene.
What Chekhov told us was that each and every tool in our storytelling arsenal must be necessary.
We can’t have elements that are randomly included just because we might need them later; they must have a purpose for being there and having meaning to a scene’s action. This applies not only to literal objects, but also to characters and their actions.
If it doesn’t advance the story, it has no place in the story.
We call these unnecessary tools “plot coupons,” and they are the bane of good storytelling. Plot coupons are things like characters who show up, do something seemingly-irrelevant, then disappear (like one of our main characters doing research in a library scene).
They are scenes which exist only to show how normal another character is (such as when two supporting teachers discuss their summer plans while our protagonist isn’t even present in the room). These plot coupons clutter up our stories and break the flow of narrative energy by requiring us to stop.
How Chekhov’s Gun Can Be Effective In A Series
Chekhov believed that if you introduce something unnecessarily early in a story, you will have to explain why it was there later on. For example: If you introduce a gun into your plot, you are going to have to use it at some point.
Otherwise, this gun will only confuse your readers: Why did you make such a big deal about this particular gun?
Let’s look at an example from one of the most important movies of all time: The Godfather by Francis Ford Coppola (screenplay by Mario Puzo).
It is widely considered as one of the best movies ever made and was nominated for countless awards – so much so that it won three Oscars for best picture and best actor!
How Do You Identify A Chekhov’s Gun?
In order to understand how to identify a “Chekhov’s gun” we have to look at what it is and what it isn’t. First off, Chekhov’s gun is not named after Anton Chekhov, one of the most well-known Russian playwrights of all time.
In fact, if you see this term used to describe something written by Chekhov, then you can be sure that it was not used correctly and should be ignored.
So who does Chekhov’s gun actually refer to? It refers to Konstantin Stanislavsky, one of his acting students, who developed an approach to acting called “method acting.”
This technique relies on an actor being able to inject as much realism into their performance as possible.
What Is Chekhov’s Gun Foreshadowing?
If a gun is introduced in Act 1, it must be fired by the end of Act 3.
Tension is created in a story when you have some information that your protagonist doesn’t have. Chekhov’s gun is a literary device that builds tension because you know something bad is going to happen but don’t know when and how it’s going to happen.
What Is Chekhov’s Gun Foreshadowing?
He once said: “If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.”
Chekhov’s Gun Examples
Let’s look at an example from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities . A man named Gaspard, who was one of the leaders of the French Revolution, was sentenced to die on the guillotine at a public execution.