Chekhov’s Gun is Bullshit

Under the Green Desk Lamp…

‘Chekhov’s Gun’ is a dramatic principle for writers, meant to teach us that ‘every element of a story must be necessary, and irrelevant elements should be removed’ (Source).

In its most basic form, it famously states that if there is a gun on the wall in one chapter, it must go off in a later chapter. Otherwise, it should not be there.

What a load of bullshit!

While certainly well-intentioned—for it is good to avoid the extraneous, and reductive editing is almost always the surest route to perfection—the principle at its simplest entirely ignores the myriad reasons to include such an item in a story.

To say that a gun must go off or not exist at all is to limit the writer’s freedom and usher all creative narration into cookie cutter niches of content. Guns must equate to shootouts. Attraction must result in sex. Loss must evoke retribution or vindication. It’s all very formulaic, and in the end we end up with a far less promising array of potentials.

The notion itself only attempts to force stories and thought into a more linear pattern, allowing less growth in exchange for more action. It’s predictable, trite, and self-limiting.

Let us look briefly to an example. The Bruce Springsteen song ‘Galveston Bay’ (Link) tells the story of two Americans with very different experiences of the Vietnam war and its resulting influx of immigrants. Le, a native of Vietnam, flees his war-torn country for the alluring promise of America. Billy sees the immigrants coming and changing the life he’d always known. When, at the end of the song, Billy waits for Le in an alley with a Ka-bar knife, Checkhov’s principle would clearly state that the knife must come into play.

But it doesn’t. Billy slips the knife back into his pocket and lets Le pass—finally understanding the joint nature of their struggles, and realizing that his destructive impulse was not a true solution.

This is a far more interesting and dramatic narrative than another simple back-alley knifing. Had the knife not been included, we would struggle to understand the tension and conflict of Billy’s mindset. Had it been used, we would not see his development.

So, dear writers, while catch-all principles can serve as useful reminders, let us not fall into the habit of taking them as sacrosanct. Tiny details can serve to develop character, and show choices far beyond their most obvious functions. Guns aren’t always fired, hurt doesn’t always result in glory, and kisses, sadly, aren’t always forever. Sometimes, they are simply experiences we must pass through, learning what we can.

After all, owning a gun can tell you a lot about a character, but the decision not to use one when provoked can show you far more. We should always be mindful of this.

-Brad OH Inc.

Why You Should Seek Contrary Friendships

purelyspeculation‘Socially Constructed Realities’ (SCRs) are the assumptions we all act under subconsciously. They may be assumptions about how the world works, how people are, why we do what we do, how we should act, etc. By nature, these are formed within us due to the society and culture we grow up in.

They help us to anticipate outcomes and react quickly to key events. They also limit our ability to learn, as we often practice ‘selective noticing’—noticing things and interpreting events in a way that only reinforces our current notions, while discounting anything which challenges them.

With the internet, it is easier than ever to find groups of people who fit exactly into our predefined SCR’s—Facebook alone is replete with large groups for even the most wildly absurd types of people—Flat Earthers, conspiracy nuts, Juggalos, Trump supporters, etc. The problem with this is that by surrounding ourselves with people who operate under the same assumptions as we do, we limit our ability to have these assumptions challenged, and thus stunt any potential for intellectual growth.

Essentially, we deny ourselves the experience of other viewpoints while reinforcing the limitations of our own. This is a terrible abuse of our inherent potential. It creates greater polarity between people, leading to division, group think, and more often than not, hatred.

This is not to say we shouldn’t enjoy the company of like-minded individuals, which is of course a very important element of a healthy and balanced social life. But we must be cognizant to avoid doing so to the exclusion of all differing viewpoints—as doing this prevents our learning and growth.

Rather, we should challenge ourselves to find those with radically different SCRs, and seek (with patience and respect) to better understand them. Often, we may find this allows us to better understand ourselves as well, as it enables us to more effectively assess and challenge the assumptions driving our own worldviews.

So find those you disagree with—who challenge all that you hold dear. Question them and learn from them. Assess the assumptions that drive your actions, and consider the differing views of others. Do not enshrine yourself in the familiar, but search for the radical, the different and the seemingly absurd. This is the path to self-actualization, and ultimately, a more understanding and respectful society.

-Brad OH Inc.