An oldie but a goodie, ‘Chekhov’s Gun’ is something that all writers should keep in their literary arsenal.
It’s something I don’t notice in most books, but would cause internal outrage in me if it weren’t there. It allows me to feel a little bit smarty-pants-psychic when I see something small in a movie and I just know that it’s going to come up again later.
Chekhov’s Gun is the basic idea that:
One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it.
This article from ‘Writing Forward’ explains it pretty well, and gives a writing exercise to practice.
Most of the time I’ve ever placed and fired Chekhov’s Gun, I’ve been pretty subtle about it. But, as the article says, it’s more about making everything in your writing count (and eliminating the meaningless stuff).
It kind of threads everything together and gives the reader what one of my teachers called ‘The A-Ha! Moment’. Sometimes it’s less of a BANG and more of a pop, but whatever your gun is firing, you’ve gotta make it worth something.