Monday, March 7, 2016

Chekhov's Gun

Chekhov's gun is a term for a dramatic principle which requires every element in a narrative to be necessary and irreplaceable, and for everything else to be removed. Anton Chekhov is noted for saying, "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." Under this principle, a seemingly unimportant object ("Chekhov's gun") that is shown or mentioned in the narrative will serve as a plot device or have some other significance later (i.e. foreshadowing).

Variations on the statement include:

"One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it." Chekhov, letter to Aleksandr Semenovich Lazarev (pseudonym of A. S. Gruzinsky), 1 November 1889.

"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." From Gurlyand's Reminiscences of A. P. Chekhov, in Teatr i iskusstvo 1904, No. 28, 11 July, p. 521.

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