Thursday, May 24, 2012

Loading Up Chekhov's Armory

"If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it's not going to be fired, it shouldn't be hanging there."

Anton Chekhov's famous quote, in turns out, wasn't quite what I thought it was.  I had thought it was, "If a gun is hanging on the wall in Act I, it must be fired in Act III.  If it is fired in Act III, it must be seen on the wall in Act I."  The essence is still the same, but Chekov's actual quote emphasizes not setting up foreshadowing that isn't paid off.

Now, this sets up the fundamental difference between the Plotter and the Pantser in terms of foreshadowing-- especially if we're talking about a long-term, multi-part project.  The Plotter has a payoff in mind when the foreshadowing is seeded.  The Pantser seeds something in hopes of a strong payoff coming from it.  I'm not saying one is good and the other is bad, mind you.  I just know which one works for me.  (It's the former.)

But the thing with long term plans (or long term made-up-as-you-go) is "Act III", as it were, could be a long way down the road.  The writer might know how it's going to pay off, but the when is in the foggy horizon.  And that's OK.

With a BIG long-term project, though, you're going to need a lot of guns.  You might not hang them all up on the wall at once, but you know you're going to need them.

This is relevant right now, for me, as I've recently figured out the details of several guns I intend to be shooting much further down the road.  On top of that, I've been asked to fill some more wall space in my current drafts of things.  These two things, combined, present an excellent opportunity.

So I'm off to stock up the armory.


Patrice Sarath said...

there's another pantser approach, but it works only for a single volume rather than a series -- the gun goes off in Act III, and on the editing pass you put it on the wall in Act I.

Marshall Ryan Maresca said...

Exactly. Though knowing the way I work, if I came up with a gun to shoot while writing act three, I would pretty much stop and go back and put it in Act I then.