The Agreeable Chekhov

So apparently there’s this gentleman named Anton Chekhov, a Russian short story writer who was born in 1860. I feel ashamed to have only fairly recently come to hear this guy. I have not yet even done any in-depth research, but I will, and you can too if you like. There is, of course, an article about him over at Wikipedia, and also over at my favorite wiki-site, tvtropes.org ( http://tinyurl.com/py4jbbp ). Anyway I’m not going to give you his biography, that’s what those articles are for, except that (spoilers) he died in 1904.

I first came to hear the name Chekhov in reference to something called “Chekhov’s Razor,” which would be a fun an interesting literary device that I attempted – with wild success. The principle is simple. After having written a novel, or at the very least, the first chapter or two, simply cut off the first three pages. That’s it.

The idea, of course, is to get things moving. Does your story have a slow start? Throw out the first three pages. Are you unsatisfied with your opening? Try putting the first three pages to the torch. Generally if one does this, the story has begun – and that’s the point. You’ll save your readers a lot of annoying slow-paced setting.

Now apparently that’s just one of many techniques ascribed to the Russian physician. Relying heavily on the aforementioned tvtropes.org, one sees a veritable room full of Chekhov’s items. Here’s a quote to get you started: 

“If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don’t put it there.”

In other words, a “gun” (that is, an item or object of any importance) should only really ever be mentioned early on if it’s going to make a comeback. Nifty, eh? As you likely surmised, this’d be the figurative Chekhov’s Gun, though it certainly is not limited to weaponry. Other such items in the room include:

  • Chekhov’s Boomerang – when a “gun” unexpectedly returns.
  • Chekhov’s News Report – when something is mentioned early on, say via newsprint or television, that plays an important role later in the story.
  • Chekhov’s Hobby / Skill – when the “gun” is in fact something that a (the main?) character does or has, and turns out to be really useful in the end.

And there are dozens more. Here’s a lovely list, from which I derived these few: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ChekhovsGun

Making story-writing history like a boss.

Happy writing, dear readers!

 

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