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leave the pistol on the wall?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by joshua mcdermott, Oct 11, 2020.

  1. joshua mcdermott

    joshua mcdermott Troubadour

    Question about the tightness of the story, and if purposefully leaving some mess.. which I am doing.. is ok/smart to do so or is it just a mess? I know how you write it is 99% of it, but also looking for people who might have done similar and decided to go forward, go back, or how they handled it.

    Like having a scene where the MC is careful to pack a particular item, in case they need it, but then in the course of things that bag gets left somewhere and they are never able to recover it -. Its not huge deal, they can get another- but should I just not bother with the thought and packing since it does not work out? Or does it feel more interesting to have her do that, but then it comes to nothing? Of course IRL this happens all the time, but in a story... is it just slop that should be cut?

    There is a parallel metaphor to the bag, in the the MC is also prepping a move against an antagonist, but a larger world event interferes and while the relationships she builds in that prep come through... the actual plan gets completely up-ended and never happens at all.

    any thoughts appreciated- This is during my 1st revision.
  2. Prince of Spires

    Prince of Spires Inkling

    It depends. If all it is, is someone packing a bag and losing it, then it is something that can be cut. Though, if it should be cut is a different matter. In an epic fantasy story it might have a place even if it's just that. If it's a short, fast paced thriller then perhaps not so much. Part of an epic fantasy is seeing the little details of the world which create that epic feeling, and it matters a bit less if there's a few slower paced parts. In a fast paced thriller this is less desirable.

    Of course, packing and losing the item can also have an extra function in the novel. It can create character: why does the character pack this specific item and what does it show about the character, how does the character react to losing it, does he reflect on missing the item at a point where he needs it. It can also show worldbuilding: what is the item, is it something special, what does it show about the world.

    A story is about plot, setting and character, tied together by conflict. I believe all parts in a story need to do something for one of those at a minimum. But there's more to a book than just the plot.
  3. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Myth Weaver

    There are people that believe wholeheartedly in Chekhov's gun. That said we are writing fiction and not an instruction manual. Do what feels right to you.
    If you want to make it meaningful, have them leave a favourite book, picture [anything really] and then have them miss it later on.
    Or it could be their preparation that is important. If I read that someone is paying off debts [or running them up], writing a will, making sure there is someone around to feed the cat and handing their neighbour a set of keys to their home... Then I don't think they think they are going to come back anytime soon and perhaps permanently.
  4. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    Not everything has to be meaningful, but it must be entertaining. If there's a long sequence directing focus on something very deliberately, there better be a pay off. If it's just a quick pan over something, then it doesn't have to lead to anything. If you make a big deal out of it, there should be a purpose for it, even if its just a red herring. Otherwise why waste the reader's time?

    For example, in the movie Deadpool, the character has a montage of literally packing a bag of guns, and promptly leaves it in the taxi. The pay off isn't the use of the guns, it's the comedic sequence that ensues as a reaction to losing the guns. It also acts as another obstacle to over come. Now, this fits the tone of the story and character. If it was something more serious in tone, it can throw the reader out of the story and make the story seem kind of stupid.

    A story doesn't have to finish up all neat and tidy, but there's a difference between a bit of scruffiness and a complete sty.
    italian in japan likes this.
  5. Kasper Hviid

    Kasper Hviid Sage

    Reminds me of this scene:
    Vaporo likes this.
  6. italian in japan

    italian in japan Dreamer

    i also think objects, just like dialogue, should serve some kind of purpose. often they can be non-expository ways to introduce a character, their interests, their personalities, past, and so on. if i spend half a paragraph describing a pen, and that pen does not serve any purpose at all, then yes, i do believe the pen should not be there at all.
    if the characters loses the pen and does not care, even though we learn it is a present from *insert person*, that can help us understand something about them.
  7. Kasper Hviid

    Kasper Hviid Sage

    They pretty much always do, I think. The one exception I could think of was the watermelon, but then again, that vid claims the watermelons serve some intertextual purpose, even if there's another explanation in the comments.
    italian in japan likes this.
  8. Electric Bone Flute

    Electric Bone Flute Minstrel

    I think that if a protagonist is gathering gear, it feels too neat, almost like a modern children's action show, if they use every bit of gear. The former vs the latter Alex Rider novels are a good example of this: in the early novels, he finds a use for almost every gadget. It felt more right in later novels when, for example in Snakehead, he loses a belt full of survival gear after a nasty waterfall encounter.
    Vaporo likes this.
  9. Edward Evjen

    Edward Evjen Dreamer

    I like this reflection on Chekov's Gun.
    I would let your character pack and lose the tool. Imagine this three point story.​
    1) Man has gun safely stowed under mattress. He can defend himself, huzzah.
    2) Mafia breaks into his house--oh no! No worries, he has a gun.
    3) Checks mattress. The hell? It's gone. What am I going to do now.

    Putting your character on edge by ripping away things that give her confidence is a great way to get the MC thinking on her toes and struggling with frustration, desperation and the like. Hell, you can use it to get her into more trouble. She will have false confidence in her equipment and willingly step into more danger. This could work way better if you tell the audience in advance she is walking on a bridge of air--doesn't have get tools.

    Reminds me of a scene in Catch 22, Yossarian opens a first-aid kit expecting a pain killer. Surprise surprise, Milo had taken it. Throughout the story Milo has been nabbing things.
  10. Prince of Spires

    Prince of Spires Inkling

    It still follows Chekov's Gun reference though. At least in how it's interpreted. It's not about a literal gun that has to be fired. It's about adding something to a story on purpose. If you have a whole scene making a big point about a character packing an item, only to never mention or reference it again, then that doesn't serve a purpose in the story and you can probably cut it. However, if the character loses that item you can use it to increase the tension of the story. Or if you want to show something about the personality of the character (it can be that he always prepares or it can be that he's insecure and needs a lot of stuff or whatever), then that scene adds something to the story.

    In my opinion, there's nothing wrong with having small bits to the story which are only there for color and worldbuilding. But if you make a bigger deal out of something, then there has to be a purpose to that something. It's a promise you make to your readers. And if you leave too many promises unfulfilled then your readers will feel unsatisfied by the story.
    Edward Evjen likes this.

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