13 August, 2011
Chekhov's Gun

I know I've mentioned Chekhov's gun before, and I'm pretty sure I've even mentioned it in this here journal. I've mentioned it the same way I will go on and on about Schoenberg and twelve-note composition. At least, I'm pretty sure I've mentioned Chekhov's gun. I'm not interested in searching back through my journal archive to find out.

I've actually just finished ranting about this over on Google Plus just for something to do. Why not try out new and different things whenever the mood should strike, right? Sometimes they can be fun and entertaining. Other times, they just turn out to be a complete waste of time.

Not my point. I liked how the rant over on Google Plus turned out, and I actually considered just copying/pasting the whole thing verbatim over here. Then, I thought, why the hell should I do that? Where's the fun? Where's the sport? Things should be different if not unique. It would be much more entertaining to rewrite the entry or at least compose a vaguely original if not overly entertaining intro to what was already ranted about elsewhere.

I'll skip the Schoenberg bit. Misunderstanding. Musical tragedy. Twentieth Century music was made more the vast wasteland because of the ease with which twelve-note music could be abused. Blah blah blah.

The problem is that I've been running out of books that I want to read, and I want to read. I mean, sure, it isn't exactly as if I've got a lot of time to devote to the reading of words on paper. Pretty much relegated to those times spent waiting for the bus. If I try to read on the bus, I puke, which is not commentary on the quality of whatever I happen to be reading. I just get motion sickness really easily. Fortunately, the light-rail street cars don't bother me so at least I get some reading done then.

I used to get around the lack of reading material by subscribing to a fiction magazine. That kind-of fizzled out when the magazine changed editors, and I started to notice that I was skipping stories. Back in the day, I would read every single issue cover-to-cover. New editor and I would skip a stupid story here. Pass on a self-important story there. It just got depressing. Finally, I just gave up and canceled the subscription. Bummer that.

Leaving me with nothing to read. So, I've tried this. Sampled that. Made more than one run through the bookstore where I basically just grabbed books at random from off the shelf. I've tried to improve my luck by joining and listening to the Science Fiction Book Review Podcast. Total derailment here, I love the S.F. Book Review Podcast. The guy who does it can speak with such enthusiasm and energy. I understand a lot of people listen hoping he absolutely hates the book and will rant rather creatively and with much inclusion of profanity about how horrible the book is, but that's doing the podcast a disservice. Sure, the rants about horrible books are great, but I also love the rants about good books. I love the wild digressions. The rants during The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and 1984 that have little to nothing to do with the actual book are among some of my favorites.

Oh, and the books I more-or-less grabbed at random from off the bookstore's bookshelf? Yeah, didn't finish very many of them. Pity that.

Anyway, the more random my reading habits have become the more lousy books I've read. And, I've really started to notice something. Maybe, this has always been a trend and I just never noticed because my book selecting wasn't such a potpourri of pot-luck. And, yes, I am deliberately mangling language for my own amusement here. Deal with it.

Books are crap at setting up twists and turns and generally doing anything surprising. It's like those books never got past storytelling 101 in which we are told that things shouldn't really come completely out of left field. There should be some kind of build-up, set-up or ground work. The problem I'm noticing is that this framework isn't even vaguely subtle or organic. It's like the book knows it wants to get to point zed and starts working backwards as if it was marking things off on a list. In fact, I want to call the technique check-listing, and it's freaking painful to read.

Which brings me back around to the misuse and abuse of Chekhov's gun. Number one example trotted out in storytelling 101 is that damnable quote by Anton Chekhov. I've think I've complained before about how profundity can completely and utterly obliterate the meaning intended by that profundity. It's just so easy to be blinded by the profundity that—oh, never mind.

Analogy by way of Chekhov's gun: if you use a gun in act three, then make sure you show the gun in act one.

Now, I know this is just me. Other people's mileage may and probably does vary from my own little corner of delusion and chaos, but far too many books do the equivalent of dumping that gun on a plain white stage. Maybe, there is a table. Gun could be resting on the table. There may even be a chair. Unfortunately, there is also a great big sign with candy-colored glowing letters screaming "gun" at the audience.

This is not a healthy way to run a railroad. I mean, sure, my straw-man example is pretty much just a stick figure, but I'm putting dramatic weight ahead of rhyme or reason here.

Yes, setup is useful but the important bit cannot be the only thing being set up. It should simply be part of the tapestry and stuff. This is hard, I know, but it is rather importantly necessary.

Put another way, just because the book makes sure to point out that something can explode in chapter two doesn't mean that the damn thing must explode in chapter three or ever.

There is a reason they did that joke in that movie where the guy didn't bother to sign his will, had five days until retirement, and uncovered the true and wide-ranging conspiracy behind the assassination of Kennedy.

Doesn't anybody ever remember that joke?

PS. Wildly divergent anecdote time. Listening to the S.F. Book Review Podcast lead me to First thing I did upon joining goodreads was to "friend" the guy who does the book review podcast. Really, I just wanted to be able to comment on his posts and reviews if the mood should strike. So, in the very next podcast, he starts with a speech about how he won't review small press or independent self-published authors. Now, I absolutely and totally agree with everything he said. I also became quite horrified that he might have been talking about me. After all, I quite clearly show on my goodreads profile that I've written more than one book. How far of a stretch is it to believe that I was trying to curry favor? Which I'm not. I swear, it took all of my self-control to not fire off an email to him basically saying "I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I'm not trying to curry favor. If it seems that way what with the friend request, it was totally unintentional. I'm sorry!" Fortunately, I kept it together enough to think I'm not necessarily the center of the universe. It is, in fact, possible that there are people out there who were rather blatantly trying to get him to review their books. Sure, it's funny now, but at the time, I was mortified.

See, this is why I'll never be a famous author beyond the fact of the questionable quality of my own work. I just completely and utterly suck at self-promotion. I should have been shamelessly trying to convince him to review my shit. But, no, it's just not my thing. You should hear me try to answer anybody who asks me the "so, what's your book about question?" I stammer. Shuffle my feet. Speak in really lame generalizations. Pathetic, really. Definitely underserving of fame, fortune or glory.

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