I was listening to the latest episode of Writing Excuses, and Chekhov’s Gun is brought up at around 6:30. Chekhov’s Gun is plotting advice from Chekhov (the boring old playwright) that basically says if you show a gun sitting on the mantle in your opening scene, then you better have that gun go off before the story ends. Makes sense to me. If you, as an audience member, see that gun, that’s what you’ll expect it to be there for. It’s like a promise the author has made to you. "Hey, this gun is going to matter!" And an author shouldn’t make promises he can’t keep. And I think it makes experiencing the story that much more fun. You’ll be interested in how that gun will come into to play. Who will get shot? Will he or she die? Who will shoot? Why? You’ll watch to find out.
But in this podcast, guest Patrick Rothfuss (author of The Wise Man’s Fear, which I’m still reading) says that he hates that, and that he thinks you might need to put a gun in there to mess with the audience; the audience shouldn’t know what to expect. Otherwise it can be cliché. You can read the setup and guess what’s going to happen.
What? No. You can’t guess the specifics of what’s going to happen, and that’s the fun stuff. Plus, if you break that promise, you’ll upset most of the audience. "You made it seem like the gun was going to be used, and it never was… so disappointing!"
Which is really weird, because at the end of the podcast, Rothfuss says that with drama you can know the ending and you can still be interested in the drama of the story. Indeed, it’s true! Otherwise we wouldn’t watch movies more than once.