Thursday, January 16, 2014

New Year's Resolutions, Promises and Chekhov's Gun

Anton Pavlovich Chekhov, 1860
I was looking at StumbleUpon this morning when a Wikipedia article titled Chekhov's Gun caught my eye.  The concept leading to the title came from Anton Chekhov, a 19th century writer considered to be among the greatest short story writers of all time. He was also a noted writer of plays. He lived from 1860 until 1904. The gun he talks about is a play prop that promises some action in the future. The idea is that when you place a prop on the stage during a play, it foreshadows what will come later in the play. His thinking was that if you place the gun on the stage, the audience will expect the actors to fire it. Otherwise why would it even be there? In a letter written to a friend he said,
"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."
I suppose writers and livers of life have been thinking about that "rifle" since Chekhov wrote the words in 1889. Writers know that words are precious and should to be used with great care. Using word or object (Chekhov's Gun) to foreshadow what is to come is a very important tool used by successful authors. Those of us that write blogs know a promise made in the title should be delivered in the body of the article. But livers of life can take a different lesson from his warning.

I am talking about any announcement of intent. It might be a threat or a promises or even a New Year's resolutions. The promise (Chehov's Gun) is very like an elephant in the room. No one can take their eyes off it in the expectation of action. At this time of year we are all trying to live up to whatever we resolved to accomplish in 2014...a promise made to ourselves or someone we care about. There that big announcement of intent sits waiting for us to take it up and do something with it. Even the threat to take action can become meaningless if it is not acted upon. Chekhov suggests we have some choices. We can leave the loaded gun in the room unused until it means nothing, renounce it or actually take the action we promised we would. Our actions will say a lot about who we are.

It is just a thought.  Have a wonderful day!

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