Self-Editing Tip #19–Chekhov’s Gun

23 Aug

Ever read something and wondered, “Why did the writer even bring that up?” or “So what?” or “What happened to that (x, y, z)…?” Ever write something and then never address that point again?

That’s basically what Chekov’s Gun is all about—everything that’s written better be worth the space it takes up in the text. It needs to have a purpose.

The great dramatist Anton Chekhov once said, “Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. 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” (Valentine 1987).

I’m sure you could use the gun for something else. Maybe you take it off the wall and beat somebody with it. Maybe you take it off the wall and sell it for train ticket money. Who knows? The point is, if you’ve made the effort to point out some detail, readers are going to look for why it’s important. So, make sure it comes full circle, that you get back around to that detail in some way, and that it’s important!

Here is a long list of Sci-Fi and Fantasy literature that effectively uses Chekhov’s Gun to bring details full circle. Use your own reading experience when judging the accuracy of this list, because I have not read many of the novels included.

Next week, we’ll dig into some Red Herring! Hint: it’s not a fish 😉 Until then, have a great weekend with lots of purposeful writing and happy reading!


–Amanda Marsico

Editor, Proofreader, Red Ink Enthusiast


Source: Valentine, Bill T. Chekhov: The Silent Voice of Freedom. 1987. Philosophical Library. Print.

8 Responses to “Self-Editing Tip #19–Chekhov’s Gun”

  1. Donna Roberts August 26, 2013 at 9:12 am #

    This is the best tip yet…for me. I was going through the first draft of my novel last night placing more details into it and I stepped back and asked myself “Why am I doing this? That makes no sense.” LOL Reading this today is perfect timing!! Thanks!

    • marsicowritesite August 26, 2013 at 9:18 am #

      So glad it was useful! Today’s will be similar in topic, but I’ve got to write it first.

  2. michaelalexanderchaney August 23, 2013 at 12:20 pm #

    I saw a terrible horror movie once that kept breaking this rule. The effect was inadvertent hilarity. The camera would zoom in on a door handle and linger there for no reason. Other details got the same treatment of pointless emphasis so that by the time we got to the end and the true identity of the murderer was about to be revealed, I couldn’t help thinking: “Run! It’s that doorhandle!”

    • marsicowritesite August 26, 2013 at 9:16 am #

      That does sound like a poorly crafted plot, but one I’d like to see for a good laugh maybe! What’s it called?

      • michaelalexanderchaney August 26, 2013 at 10:52 am #

        I wish I could remember. It’s part of the Horror fest my On Demand channel brings me in an endless supply. Of course, I can’t help watching them by the dumb handfuls.


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