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Fire the gun

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

I'm not completely sure I agree with Mr. Chekhov. After all, maybe the gun shows something else. The guy likes antique weapons? He's a hunter?

On the other hand, the rifle must have relevance to something. If the character is a collector or hunter, that should come into play, even if the gun on the mantle doesn't.

I recently read a story where the author made a point of noting a character's fear of fire. So, of course, I expected that to come back later. Surely he would have to face fire or flame later in the story in order to defeat the villain or rescue the heroine.


Maybe the author was just trying to build a sympathetic, human character. Nothing wrong with that. But in this case, it was enough outside the realm of the rest of the story that it stood out. And it stood out even more for never being mentioned again.

Who knows. Perhaps she originally had a purpose for the fear and then later changed the plot line. I'm sure I've done worse.

Either way, the experience got me thinking about how we create our settings and humanize our characters. Our goal is to populate the book with realistic, interesting settings, and humanize the characters with traits that give them a three-dimensional feel. But we have to be careful not to put in unnecessary objects or characteristics that confuse the reader.

If the heroine is afraid of heights, she'd better be forced to scale a ladder or fly in an airplane at some point. If someone drops a banana peel, another character better slip on it. Either that, or the banana should be a red herring. Somehow it has to matter. (Maybe the guy's an unrepentant litterer.)

Have you run across any “guns over the fireplace” that were never fired?


In memory of Dick Francis, 31 October 1920 – 14 February 2010.

“Some are born weird, some achieve it, others have weirdness thrust upon them.” ~Dick Francis (To the Hilt)