Saturday, February 18, 2017

Chekhov’s and Chandler’s Corollary: Character

Scott D. Parker

A writer’s trope, attributed to famed playwright Anton Chekhov, goes something like this: if you show a gun on the mantle in chapter 1, then that gun better go off in some future chapter. It’s the art of foreshadowing.

Another trope, likely attributed to some nameless pulp writer, is that if your story is mired down, have a guy show up in a room with guns blazing. Then your characters have to react to the gunslinger. Okay, so I just looked that up and the quote is attributed to Raymond Chandler. The official quote is this: “When in doubt, have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand.” Some websites call this Chandler’s Law.

Well, I think the two authors might be interested in knowing a new corollary might now exist: Chekhov’s and Chandler’s Character. I could go with CCC but that reminds this historian too much of the Civilian Conservation Corps from the 1930s.

You see, earlier this week—on Valentine’s Day no less—I was hitting a wall. I was in a necessary exposition chapter, but as I’m writing this novel with my pants on, I wasn’t too sure what would happen next. If I followed Chandler’s Law, I’d have a gunman enter the room. My novel is a western so that’s not too difficult. Instead, however, I created a brand-new character. She walked into the scene—literally—and she solved everything.

In one fell swoop, I had a new character with whom my two railroad detectives could interact. Because she’s a lady, my titular hero, Calvin Carter, a ladies man if there ever was one, suddenly had to make sure his tie was straight and his charm offensive in place. Having Carter charm the ladies is one of the great pleasures of writing the character.

Most importantly, however, Aurora Ashe was able to link the story Carter had experienced up to that chapter and the rest of the story. (I have a decent idea of the ending, but nothing close to 100%.) Her presence unlocked the door that allowed me to walk through it, fingers flying across the keyboard, words magically appearing on the screen. It was rather liberating. The word count reflected the change, too. On Monday, I only eeked out 1274 words. Valentine’s Day was 1591. The 15th saw 2456. With her on stage, I was again on the fast track to the end of the book.

Have y’all ever had that happen in your writing, when a brand-new character you never saw coming suddenly takes over and clears the cobwebs for you?

1 comment:

Elizabeth said...

Yes! It's a short story, not a novel, and the character is based on someone I knew years ago. His sudden appearance cleared a few things up.