Put Away Chekhov’s Gun And Other Writing Crutches

What could that be on the wall??
What could that be on the wall??

So I’m watching Disney’s The Jungle Book as a rental on my television. It’s an enjoyable movie, considering all the time and effort put into the visual effects (which is all the film’s release marketing could talk about). The digital effects that render the talking animals is outstanding, and I can almost forgive myself for laughing at Bill Murray and Christopher Walken’s singing of such hoary standards such as “The Base Necessities” and “I Wanna Be Like You”.  Frozen, it’s not.

But…I was flabbergasted by the blatant reference that came at the very beginning of the film and I couldn’t stop thinking about it for the finale. Dead trees. I know, it makes no sense but I don’t want to ruin the film for people who haven’t seen it yet. But writers of all kinds seem to find it necessary to make some pointed reference at the beginning of their story, to loop back around and have it play a part in the finale. In other words, “Chekhov’s Gun.”

Now, this is not a reference to the character on Star Trek and the late actor who was recently killed. The character of Chekhov was named for the famous Russian author and playwright. The reference “Chekhov’s Gun” is a writing technique. Explicitly stated, if a gun appears in the first act of a story, said gun should be used by the end of the story. This adage doesn’t necessarily apply to weapons, but to plot points. If a man-cub is having a pointed discussion with a talking black panther on the importance of dead trees, then you’re rest assured a dead tree is going to show up at the end and have some effect on the story’s outcome. It does. The whole story comes to a predictable ending. Not very exciting. Not very satisfying.

Regrettably, the Gun it’s an overused technique that borders on cliche. If you walk into a deserted house and you focus on a creaking chandelier hovering over your characters’ heads, then the reader will expect the chandelier to drop at the worst or best opportune moment. All I can say as a writer is, really?

What can writers do to avoid Chekhov’s Gun? Can the finale use the object in question without blatantly showing a spotlight on it before it comes into play? Are you mistaking the Gun for foreshadowing? If we zip back to The Jungle Book, it makes no difference to the outcome if the character recognizes a dead tree or not. We all know climbing one, complete with creaking and snapping sounds, already is dangerous.

So, ditch the Gun and let the scene play out.

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