Friday, January 7, 2011

Party Down, a gun in the first act, Chekhov's gun

The other day I was watching a great show I recently discovered, Party Down. One of the characters -- Casey Klein -- says something like, "You know what they say about a gun in the first act."

I had never heard the expression before and was curious. When a cursory internet search yielded no results I told myself it was likely something that applied to writing a screenplay and, as an aspiring novelist, I didn't need to know. Well, over the past few days it became like an itch I couldn't scratch so, today, I vowed I would find what the phrase meant. Thanks to the blog Thinking Television I found out. The author of the post notes that the quip was in reference to Chekhov's gun. Wikipedia did the rest.

Chekhov's gun is a literary technique whereby an element is introduced early in the story, but its significance does not become clear until later in the narrative. The concept is named after Russian playwright Anton Chekhov, who mentioned several variants of the concept in letters. Chekhov himself makes use of this principle is in Uncle Vanya, in which a pistol is introduced early on as a seemingly irrelevant prop and, towards the end of the play, becomes much more important as Uncle Vanya, in a rage, grabs it and tries to commit homicide.

The phrase "Chekhov's gun" is often interpreted as a method of foreshadowing, but the concept can also be interpreted as meaning "do not include any unnecessary elements in a story." Failure to observe the rule of "Chekhov's gun" may be cited by critics when discussing plot holes (Wikipedia, Chekhov's gun).

That's useful! It is amazing what one learns watching TV.

After I read about Chekhov's gun I read Wikipedia's entry on Checkhov. Wow! He not only put himself through university but he supported his family on top of that.

To support them and to pay his tuition fees, he daily wrote short, humorous sketches and vignettes of contemporary Russian life, many under pseudonyms such as "Antosha Chekhonte" (Антоша Чехонте) and "Man without a Spleen" (Человек без селезенки). His prodigious output gradually earned him a reputation as a satirical chronicler of Russian street life, and by 1882 he was writing for Oskolki (Fragments), owned by Nikolai Leikin, one of the leading publishers of the time.[30] Chekhov's tone at this stage was harsher than that familiar from his mature fiction.[31]

Daily! It sounds as though Chekhov wrote a story a day, stories which he sold. That is amazing.

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