“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.”
Anton Chekhov, from personal letters
In honor of the great short story writer and my last post on Chekhov’s notion of what it meant to be a cultured person, I thought I’d dedicate this Quote of the Day to a man who wore many hats in his day.
Essentially the opposite concept of a red herring, Chekhov’s gun has become one of the most endearing and well-known dramatic principles for writers. In a Wikipedia-like nutshell, it says that “every element in a story must be necessary, and irrelevant elements should be removed; elements should not appear to make “false promises” by never coming into play.”
The lesson here, folks: Don’t hang a gun up in your house on full display unless you plan on using it relatively soon.
However, I think the bigger point here is that everything has a purpose in life. You know, art mirroring life, right? (Or to quote Oscar Wilde, “Life imitates art far more than art imitates Life”). Thus, throwing names and objects into a story for gits and shiggles is not only a waste of time (for the reader) and space (on the page), but does not do justice to nature.
Put another way, Chekhov’s principle is like a smoking gun for proponents of destiny, karma and the like. Or, put another way from the previous “another way,” there are no chance events or encounters in life, nothing randomly out of place just ’cause. Everything and everyone is here for a purpose.