This post is about 400 words.
There’s a quote attributed to Anton Chekhov that goes something like this:
- If there is a gun on the mantle in the first act, it must go off in the third.
In other words, don’t put in unnecessary details, especially when they seem to promise something that will never be delivered. I’m sure we could endlessly debate the literary merits of this kind of thinking, and we probably should. At a later date. And over beers.
I was reminded of this quote today when I realized that I had my own version of a gun on the mantle and it was never set to go off. At least, not in this book. Writing to resolve this situation would have added at least a chapter, or another couple thousand words. I’m already a bit concerned about the novel’s length, but more importantly, I didn’t want to accommodate this need.
But I really wanted to keep the passage.
I love fairy tales and folklore. I love rhymes and songs, and I partially attribute my affection for Tolkien to these things. Inevitably, they make it into my own writing. I was particularly proud* of a bit of verse I’d written earlier in the week. Besides the fun of writing it and the whimsy it conveyed, like most nursery rhymes, there was a cautionary tale within the words about a particular creature. A creature that never appeared.
Then I had a literary epiphany. You’ve probably experienced the same thing in your own writing: you’ve written yourself into a corner and you’re certain your hero will not escape. And then, the answer comes out of nowhere. The solution to the problem. It’s so simple and effortless, you can’t believe it works. And while you’re happy, a small part of your brain nags you for taking so long to figure it out. That’s OK, because you have a solution and it feels natural.
There’s an element of surprise that the solution creates, so I won’t spoil it. However, don’t forget that, when you’re creating words and creatures, the definitions of those things can be exactly what you want, especially when your story uses general English and made-up languages.
So now, the gun has gone off and I’m very happy with the results.
Until next time!
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*”Proud” is usually followed by a feeling of abject despair when, upon reading the passage, I realize it’s rubbish.
© Michael Wallevand, April 2016
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