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We all know how Chekhov's gun works: in short, it's the "rule" that whatever is explicitly shown to the audience should be important later, otherwise you should get rid of it. Don't show us a gun if it doesn't get fired at some point.

I don't know if there is a specific name for what I have, but it's kinda like a Chekhov's gun, except it's in the background and not really important in the story that follows. Here's what I have, in my magic medieval setting:

The main protagonist meets an unusual looking woman on his journey, who says something about how her mother went missing a few years ago and nobody knows where she went. Understandably, this is an event that deeply traumatized this woman and shaped her actions in the present. The main protagonist sometime later is sent to a cursed place where a monster is lurking. This monster has a habit of turning anyone it sees into a statue. In the background, you see a figure of a woman who looks very similar to the woman the protagonist met earlier, implying that's her mother who went missing. However, he doesn't notice it and it has no bearing on the plot that follows, it's just a neat little background info that tells the audience what happened to that woman's mother.

Is there a name for this "trope"? It's not a Chekhov's gun, is it?

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    Overall, poor writing choice if episode with women and her mother doesn't have at least certain discrete and subtle meaning for whole story. Doesn't have to change main plot, but it may give a hint about something. – rs.29 Feb 5 at 0:20
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    I'm not sure this is an example of Chekhov's gun. It's true that the MC may not notice that the petrified woman is the beforementioned mother, but maybe the audience does. Also showing "only what will be important later" is kind of a strict rule to live by, arguably. – Reinstate Monica. Feb 5 at 9:28
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    One example of a thing like this can be seen in Douglas Adams works on the hitchikers guide to the galaxy. Ther is this passage where a missile is turned into a whale above a planetary surface. Much later (hundreds of pages) the MC comes across a whale carcase. The use here is to set a tone and to provide a time reference in a story timline that gets very complicated due to execive time travel. – lijat Feb 5 at 12:18
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    The unusual looking woman the protagonist meets early on could be some aspect of "the herald", as in the role in the monomyth as described by Joseph Campbell. Also that early event seems like a very gentle amount of foreshadowing. If when you are done with the whole story and it seems too long, this might be one of the first things to consider cutting. – Todd Wilcox Feb 5 at 15:16
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    I'm not sure how you could pull this off in an obvious enough manner without just outright saying it. The protagonist might see a statue of a woman that looks similar to the original woman, but that's no guarantee that it actually is her mother, many unrelated people may look vaguely similar, and when turned to stone it'd be even harder to tell. Unless she has some distinguishing item on her that was described by the daughter (or they have matching necklaces or something), you'd have a hard time being certain it was the same person. Merely looking similar would not be enough. – Darrel Hoffman Feb 5 at 17:18
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At first I thought it was a call-back but, as explained at that link, even those are usually relevant later. So I think what we really have here is a continuity nod.

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    Is there no policy that tvtropes links should carry a warning label? – stannius Feb 4 at 21:56
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    @stannius No policy. It's a meme. – jpmc26 Feb 4 at 22:00
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    @stannius See here. – J.G. Feb 4 at 22:02
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    Also possibly Meaningful Background Event. – ahiijny Feb 5 at 15:00
  • Depending on how outlandish the gag is that the hero does not notice, it could double as a Funny Background Event. – hszmv Feb 5 at 15:15
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As a reader, I would expect the mother's disappearance to be important even if the MC didn't notice the statue. If this is the last we see of these 2 characters, I don't really see the point of it, unless the woman's plight and seeing her mother's statue stirred up some similar feelings in the MC (reminded him of someone he'd lost in his own life, for example.)

If a writer included something like this that was irrelevant to the plot, I would end up reading the whole book waiting for it to resurface again, and if it didn't, I would be annoyed that the writer wasted words on something insignificant. If the woman is not important, why would the audience care what happened to her mother?

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    It's worldbuilding, no? I don't see why it has to directly contribute to plot developments to be useful. You still describe the main characters' choice of clothing, yes? In fact a narrative where only directly "useful" information is provided is something I find quite boring. – Lightness Races with Monica Feb 5 at 13:12
  • It would be worldbuilding if the MC only encountered the woman (not the statue) and the mother's disappearance says something about the world they live in. But encountering the mother again later, to me, says that the woman or her mother is important to the plot. – souzan Feb 5 at 13:18
  • While I see where you're coming from (I respectfully disagree), I'm wondering why you're getting upvotes considering you didn't really address my question. :) – noClue Feb 5 at 14:20
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    @souzan It tells you what happens to people in the position that the woman was in. That's part of the world. – Lightness Races with Monica Feb 5 at 14:47
  • @noClue I'd say the upshot of this answer is that it's an example of a violation of the Chekhov's Gun rule, which is meant in part to prevent the kind of frustration souzan describes. – 1006a Feb 5 at 20:31
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This would be a Brick Joke and/or Fridge Brilliance, which are two related concepts. The first is a a joke that follows a common formula where the first joke involves a brick falling from a great height... followed by a series of unrelated jokes... followed by a joke that starts off just as unrelated, but the punch line is the subject of the joke getting hit by the falling brick. When don subtlely, it can result in Fridge Brilliance, which is basically, when you can't put your finger on why something was done in a movie... until one night, when you go for a late night snack and upon opening the fridge, a light dawns upon you and you get it*.

Despite the former's name, it need not be a joke, but that the information set up by perfectly valid dialog early on pays off later when it's brought up again that may stump unobservent people. For example, there are two ways to watch the Sixth Sense: A first time watcher and a person who is looking for the tricks. It's not funny, but almost every scene hints to the big reveal.

Another great example is the film "My Cousin Vinny" where the titular cousin is defending two kids who are being tried for a murder they did not commit. Vinny is allowed to ask the three eye witnesses in the prosecution's defense and asks a single question of each witness that at the initial presentation, have nothing to do with disproving the murder and seem kinda stupid to ask on their face and highlight the humor up to this point of Vinny being a bad lawyer who doesn't know what he's doing ("What did you have for breakfast?" "How long have you been wearing those glasses?" "What is that on your window?")

However, come the actual trial, the answer to these questions actually undermines all the witnesses. The first witness (breakfast) had just begun cooking his breakfast when he saw the defendants enter the scene, but was eating when the defendants left the scene (and couldn't identify them). He testified that it was 5 minutes in total, but his breakfast took 15 minutes to cook, thus his time line was wrong and he didn't have unbroken eyes on the scene.

The next witness (glasses) had worn glasses since she was good and had gone through several different pairs as her vision got worse over the years. Turns out, she was well overdue for a stronger prescription and couldn't make out details at half the distance she testified the she saw the defendants.

The final witness (window) had a dirty window with a rusty screen that looked out to several bushes and trees that would have obscured his vision of the crime scene and called into question his ability to identify the scene.

In this example, all three earlier questions became vitally important later (Brick Joke) and for most movie watchers, it's only relevant well after they've watched the movie several times. And without spoiling, the dramatic conclusion is built on facts that viewer knew since the first scene to feature Vinny onscreen.

The final film that does this well is Hot Fuzz, which, well, pick a line in the first half of the movie... it will be important in a joke or gag later in the film.

*Oh, and in case you missed it, this is not only a definition of Fridge Brilliance, but also an example: How many of you caught the pun of opening a Fridge only for the light to dawn on you as you finally get it (the snack? the gag? The pronoun is a bit ambiguous in what it is specifically referring to).

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