Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Chekhov's Gun

I’ve been thinking about my grieving woman book of which I’ve written so little it’s not a Work-in-Progress but an IIP -- Idea in Progress. The woman finds a gun in her dead husband’s bathrobe pocket, and I've been wondering what to do with the weapon. Chekhov said that if you show a gun in the first scene you have to fire it in the third. I followed Chekhov’s rule for Daughter Am I, but I don’t see the woman in my IIP shooting the gun. The gun could be more of a symbol, something so out of place in her husband’s life that she realizes she didn’t know him at all, and hence she doesn’t know herself. So the book would turn out to be a search for identity, as are all of my novels.

In googling “the rule of the gun” to find its author (I’d forgotten it was Chekhov), I came across a wonderful site: Glossary of Terms Useful in Critiquing Science Fiction. Only a few terms are specific to science fiction, so it’s a fun glossary for anyone who writes. I especially like:

Black box scene analysis. A convenient means of evaluating how important a scene is. Think of the scene as a black box: characters go in to it and come out of it. What have they gained or lost? What irrevocable things have happened? How are they different people afterwards than before? The black-box scene analysis is a useful means of separating local dexterity (entertaining imagery) from important plot or character development. (CSFW: David Smith)

Card tricks in the dark. Authorial cleverness to no visible purpose. Wit without dramatic payoff. (Lewis Shiner)

Eyeball kick. A perfect, telling detail that creates an instant and powerful visual image. (Rudy Rucker)

Head fake. A plot action that appears to be significant but is rapidly proved to be a net null, leaving the plot moving in exactly the same direction. Excessive head fakes undermine the reader's engagement because the reader becomes trained that they are not real. (CSFW: David Smith)

Inappropriate mystery. An author will often use mystery as a means of propelling a reader forward: characters speak of things that are opaque to the reader, a character goes offstage to do something important, or a development is referred to indirectly ("I was just heading out the door when the phone rang, with terrible news"). Mystery is inappropriate when the expected dramatic follow-up is lacking: the offstage action proves to be a diversion, or the suspense proves false. (CSFW: Steve Popkes)

Laughtrack. Emotional countersinking, where the characters' give cues that tell the reader how to react. They laugh at their own jokes, cry crocodile tears at their own pain, and, by feeling everything themselves, eliminate the reader's imperative to do so, so the reader disengages. (Lewis Shiner)

Laughtrack is one I am going to have to be particularly careful of in my grieving woman story. In my previous books, I’ve tried to show the story and let readers infer the emotion, but tears are such a part of grieving that I will have to figure out how to engage readers despite the tears.


Robin Spano said...

I like these terms...each one a reminder to make sure every word in every scene has a purpose. Thanks for the post.

Marian Allen said...

Thanks for the terms and the link to the glossary. MOST useful!

Marian Allen

Pat Bertram said...

I'm glad you enjoyed this list. I did, very much.