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What if my story fails Chekhov's gun several times? If an element is not necessary for the plot, are there other reasons to mention them or I should remove all the elements that do not meet the test of the principle during the editing process? Are there good novels that fail the principle consistently or it's one of the things like "Show and don't tell", which is universally used?

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  • Since you can't respond to comments on deleted questions, and are having to resort to abusing comment flags, I've undeleted the question purely for the sake of moving this discussion to chat. I can redelete the question and the chat should still persist.
    – F1Krazy
    Jul 24, 2021 at 13:54
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    see Shaggy Dog Story
    – wetcircuit
    Jul 24, 2021 at 21:15
  • "it's one of the things like "Show and don't tell", which is universally used?" I would challenge this. It's frequently parrotted on the internet, but far from universally used. Jul 24, 2021 at 21:32

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As a direct answer to your question, yeah ... kind of; that might be a thing to think about. But, certainly not all or even most; it depends.

I view Chekhov's Gun as encouragement to value focusing your reader's anticipation when writing a story. It is a common trait of humans to want to know what is going to happen when something grabs our attention.

Nice Rock! Can I kill something with it?

Nice stick! Can someone hit me with it?

Snake! Is it going to bite me?

These lame examples are examples of how we -- humans -- readily move from observation to anticipation. And, maybe anticipation is not the best word. It is used, in this context, to mean predicting what could possibly happen and what is likely to happen and how will it benefit me or hurt me.

Just as humans are pattern matching creatures, we are predicting creatures, and we experience a tingle of pleasure when we predict something will happen and it comes true. And, we experience an element of negativity when our predictions are wrong -- we feel foolish or ashamed or dumb.

So, the way I see it, is that Chehkov is encouraging you to write stories that maximize that tingliness and minimize inspiring of foolishness.

And, that is not to say that anything that doesn't fit his maxim should be removed. There are competing elements of storytelling like Red Herrings, Canards, MacGuffins, and Foreshadowing that are useful.

These competing elements, I think, serve valuable roles in storytelling since they satisfy other aspects of human minds that promote engagement and curiosity that we also want to make use of to create wonderful and glorious stories.

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A story cannot "fail Chekov's gun". It is a guideline to help you understand why you are including certain details in a scene. Your character gets up and gets dressed. Why did you start before that? Is the dressing scene relevant? It gives you a chance to let us know what kinds of clothes this person wears, to get to know the person. So that's cool. There's no need for these clothes to "fire" in Act 3. Now the character goes downstairs (oh! this person lives in a multi storey house?) and gets some breakfast, or stumbles out the door without breakfast - we're learning more about what they are like. Where is the character headed? Why is it important to be there on time? Does the character look forward to going there? How does the character travel? Walking, biking, driving, taxi, public transit ... all these choices carry information. There's no need to have the bus drive into the restaurant where the character has dinner 12 hours later because it was Chekov's bus. Most of the details you tell us are immediately relevant because they tell us who these people are, they tell us about the setting, they put the plot in motion here and now in this scene. Only a handful of details are going to hang around for 50% or 75% of the work and then suddenly become relevant.

But.

If you make a point of telling me some teeny detail like that only one of the children in the family has dark hair, or that the character's new love interest is wildly allergic to cats, or that the character is carrying explosives in a seemingly ordinary briefcase, and then we get to the end of the whole story and that teeny detail never mattered in any way ... then I am grumpy and wonder why you wasted my time and yours telling me all about that.

A detail should either support your story right now (this character is impulsive, is wealthy, is selfish, is ill) or later (I grab the gun from above the fireplace and shoot someone with it.) A detail that takes more than a single adjective and does neither of those two things should probably go. But that won't be very many of them.

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