Chekhov’s Gun

chekhov

uncle vanya

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 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. The opposite of Chekhov’s gun is a ‘red herring,’ a plot device that’s designed to divert attention.

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