Chekhov's Gun

    Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
    Maybe I'll need that gun later.

    "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."

    Trope Namer Anton Chekhov (From S. Shchukin, Memoirs. 1911.)

    Chekhov's Gun is a literary technique whereby an unimportant element introduced early in the story becomes significant later on. For example, a character may find a mysterious necklace that turns out to be the power source to the Doomsday Device, but at the time of finding the object it does not seem important.

    Many people consider the phrase "Chekhov's gun" synonymous with Foreshadowing (and they are related), but statements the author made about the Gun can be more properly interpreted as "do not include any unnecessary elements in a story." (Indeed, Chekhov himself first described the concept in reference to live theater productions, where placing a loaded gun on the set would be a clear safety hazard.) Like Foreshadowing, the object's importance often goes unnoticed by the audience, and becomes clear only in retrospect, or during a second viewing.

    Used properly, this rule gives the item in question some degree of presence before being used, enough to prevent a potential Ass Pull that might jar and grate on the viewer's Willing Suspension of Disbelief. It can, however, turn out to be a Red Herring later on.

    As a result of the success of franchises like Lost or Harry Potter, viewers and fans of Myth Arc-laden and/or carefully written shows and books have become accustomed to obsessing over minuscule details and looking out for Chekhov's Guns everywhere and anywhere... whether they actually exist or not. We call these Epileptic Trees and Wild Mass Guessing.

    Those hearing this term for the first time should note that a Chekhov's Gun is not necessarily a literal gun -- but is a metaphor for pretty much anything.

    Chekhov's Gun Depot also stocks:

    Compare Schrödinger's Gun for a competing dramatic weapons dealer. Contrast to a Red Herring, where something shown early appears to be significant but was planted there just to throw you off. If there are a whole bunch of Red Herrings you might be looking at The Walrus Was Paul, where a writer wants to mock fans of Chekhov's Guns by repeatedly messing with them. If there is a very long delay between the introduction of the element and its use in the story, to the point where most of the audience has long forgotten about it, you're looking at a Brick Joke. The MacGuffin is significant for some (possibly even plot-relevant) reason, but we never find out just what it is. If the Chekhov's Gun was hiding on the other side of the Fourth Wall, you have a Ninja Prop. If a Chekhov's gun is set up but dropped (but was neither intended to distract as a Red Herring nor to be brought up later, as a Brick Joke), you have either an Aborted Arc or What Happened to the Mouse?, depending on the importance of the gun to the overall plot.

    The Magnetic Plot Device can be a standing Chekhov's Gun to blame the plot on. The Impossible Task may require one. Also see Ass Pull, which is what the viewer can sometimes confuse this with if they miss the gun the first time (or if the gun was edited out in the TV version).

    A reverse Chekhov's Gun is also common. Explicitly showing a normally armed character forgetting his gun when leaving the house for example. The experienced troper knows that this will become the day he needs it the most.

    Not to be confused with Chekov's Gun (or Chekhov's Pun, for that matter). See also Call Back, Brick Joke, and Running Gag.

    WARNING! There are unmarked Spoilers ahead. Beware.

    Examples of Chekhov's Gun are listed on these subpages:
    Chekhov's Gun