Chekhov's gun (Russian: Чеховское ружьё) is a dramatic principle that states that every element in a story must be necessary, and irrelevant elements should be removed; elements should not appear to make "false promises" by never coming into play. The statement is recorded in letters by Anton Chekhov several times, with some variation:
- "Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. 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."
- "One must never place a loaded rifle on the stage if it isn't going to go off. It's wrong to make promises you don't mean to keep." Chekhov, letter to Aleksandr Semenovich Lazarev (pseudonym of A. S. Gruzinsky), 1 November 1889. Here the "gun" is a monologue that Chekhov deemed superfluous and unrelated to the rest of the play.
- "If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don't put it there." From Gurlyand's Reminiscences of A. P. Chekhov, in Teatr i iskusstvo 1904, No. 28, 11 July, p. 521.
Note the difference between Chekhov's gun and foreshadowing. Chekov was commenting on narrative detail and what details the writer should include. Foreshadowing only vaguely implies that an event will take place in the future, while the Chekhov's gun principle guarantees that an event will happen further along in the story.
- Foreshadowing, a plot device where what is to come is hinted at, to arouse interest or to guard against disappointment
- MacGuffin, a plot motivator with little or no narrative explanation
- Occam's razor, a philosophical razor that states that, all things being equal, the explanation with fewest assumptions should be considered the most likely
- Red herring, drawing attention to a certain element to mislead
- Shaggy dog story, a long-winded anecdote designed to lure the audience into a false sense of expectation, only to disappoint them with an anticlimactic ending or punchline.
- Petr Mikhaĭlovich Bit︠s︡illi (1983), Chekhov's art, a stylistic analysis, Ardis, p. x
- Daniel S. Burt (2008), The Literature 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Novelists, Playwrights, and Poets of All Time, Infobase Publishing
- Valentine T. Bill (1987), Chekhov: The Silent Voice of Freedom, Philosophical Library
- С.Н. Щукин [Sergius Shchukin] (1911). "Из воспоминаний об А.П. Чехове" [Memoirs]. Русская Мысль [Russian Thought]: 44.
- "Quotations by Berlin". ox.ac.uk.
- Чехов А. П. (1 November 1889), "Чехов — Лазареву (Грузинскому) А. С.", Чехов А. П. Полное собрание сочинений и писем, АН СССР. Ин-т мировой лит.
- Leah Goldberg (1976), Russian Literature in the Nineteenth Century: Essays, Magnes Press, Hebrew University, p. 163
- In 1889, 24-year-old Ilia Gurliand noted these words down from Chekhov's conversation: "If in Act I you have a pistol hanging on the wall, then it must fire in the last act". Donald Rayfield, Anton Chekhov: A Life, New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1997, ISBN 0-8050-5747-1, 203. Ernest. J. Simmons says that Chekhov repeated the point later (which may account for the variations). Ernest J. Simmons, Chekhov: A Biography, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962, ISBN 0-226-75805-2, 190.
- "What Is Chekhov's Gun and How to Use It • The Reedsy Blog". Reedsy. 28 May 2018.