Literary Device: Chekhov’s Gun

Chekhov’s gun is one of my favorite literary devices. This literary device is when the author introduces an object (it can be anything though, like a character or a phrase) that seems invaluable, but later becomes important to the story. Basically: introduce the gun in the first act, fire in the second.

When using Chekhov’s gun, you can do a few things. The first is using it as a red herring. A red herring is a clue that throws the reader off track or a false clue. This is often used in mysteries. Using Chekhov’s gun as a red herring is exactly that: introduce a seemingly pointless object, but hint it might have some significance. However, this has to be executed extremely well to work. If it’s not, your attempt will be seen as useless and an editor will delete it. The reader has to truly believe the object has some sort of significance for this device to work. Never introduce something and then never mention it again.

Or the object could be both Chekhov’s gun and a red herring. Two objects may be introduced and one may carry out as the object readers will see as important and significant. However, the second object, forgotten and completely insignificant, can make a quick comeback. The first object would be the red herring, the second object would be Chekhov’s gun, and putting them together would be a plot twist.

The second way to use Chekhov’s gun is the old fashion way of introducing an object and not explaining its significance until later. JK Rowling did this in The Order of the Phoenix¬†when Harry and the others were cleaning out Grimmauld Place. They found a locket that no one could open and then tossed it to the side. That was one of Voldemort’s horcruxes, but no one knew it until the next book.

Chekhov’s gun is similar to foreshadowing, but not the same. Using an object to foreshadow an event and then using that object in the event is Chekhov’s gun. using Harry Potter as an example again, Dumbledore’s warning to stay away from a part of the third floor is foreshadowing because its significance was heavily implied.

Depending on who you talk to, the guidelines for Chekhov’s gun will vary. Some believe it is synonymous with foreshadowing while others do not.

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