Chekhov’s Phaser…err, Gun

I’m a firm believer in Anton Chekhov’s well-known principle that “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.

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Of course, it can be a little different in a series. The “gun”, whether character or bit of backstory or whatever, doesn’t necessarily have to come into play in a subsequent chapter of that book. It can, of course, but it can also “fire” later in the series.

I do it both ways. Night and Day, for example, has a couple of unfired “guns” in it that still haven’t been fired right through the events of Bandit’s Moon. Take, for example, Tom Castle.

If you’ve read Night and Day, you might remember him. One of the regulars at Hanritty’s.

Age somewhere between forty and seventy. Graying, unkempt shoulder-length hair. Tall and thin, almost skeletal. Empty eyes.

You find out that he had been tapped hard during the war, and withdrawn into himself. Not physically damaged by losing a lot of blood to the vampires, but psychologically damaged.

And then Tom Castle just…disappears. Introduced and discussed at a length that would make you think that there was more to him and a greater place in the story further on in Night and Day. But there’s not. He never gets mentioned or seen again.

To be honest, at one stage Tom Castle did make another appearance, and did have a greater place in the story. In the chapter where Welles and Captain Jimmy Mutz were sitting in Hanritty’s, talking about what leads to follow next and discussing a trip to Camp Delta-5, Tom Castle was supposed to interject himself into the conversation, unbidden, and share some information about Delta-5. Important information.

But…it didn’t work, at least not as well as I wanted it to. Instead, I decided to go with the guy who always ate breakfast in the booth next to Welles. He shares some important information, sends them in a different direction. And though he doesn’t have a name, in Bleeding Sky we find out that he calls himself Red. And he remains the gift that keeps on giving in Bandit’s Moon.

Tom Castle, on the other hand, hasn’t been seen since Chapter 1 of Night and Day. And I almost took him out of there when I was editing the book. Because he was that gun on the wall that hadn’t been fired. But I left him in. Why? Because I will probably use him at one point or another, in one Night and Day book or another. I’ll eventually pull Tom Castle’s trigger, when the time is right. Until then, he can quietly hang on the wall.

Another gun I’ve cocked a couple of times but never fired is Father Keitaro McCray. The priest who believes the vampires are demons sent by God to test the faith of humanity. He has most of a chapter devoted to him in Night and Day, and he reappears briefly in Bleeding Sky. Yet he really doesn’t have much of an impact on either story. So why is he there?

Frankly, because I might need him. I knew I wouldn’t need him in Night and Day beyond what we saw of him. I brought him in briefly in Bleeding Sky to set up part of a discussion further on in the book. But also to set him up to eventually be “fired” later in the series. Which is not to say that his “supernatural” theory of the vampire’s origins holds water. But it will be useful to have him on-hand a little later – probably in Blood for Blood. (He almost appeared in Bandit’s Moon – when brainstorming the story, I had an incident involving Father McCray. It didn’t fit in, but will almost definitely fit into Blood for Blood.)

The reason this was all on my mind today was that Bandit’s Moon does have a couple of “guns” that appear in the early part of the story. They performed a function at that point, but I also knew that they might come in handy later, though I had no idea if they actually would. As it turns out, they did. Both in very important ways.

It’s all part of my toolbox approach to writing. Put lots of tools in the toolbox, and don’t be afraid to put extras in even if you don’t know if you’ll need them. Because when the end of the book is thundering at you like a herd of stampeding bulls, that kind of “gun” might be just what you need.

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