Promises in the dark

Chekhov called it the gun on the wall. Bill Johnson, in his writing craft book, A Story is a Promise, called it just that. When you hang a gun on the wall in Act I, you promise that it will go off sometime before Act III. (And you know, even when I see a literal gun on the wall in a play, and they post that little sign out front: Act III contains simulated gunfire and smoke, I always flinch when its fired.)

Darcy sent me a little scenelet today that I think reinforces one of the promises we made. Actually, I think it opens it up even more. It’s terrific. One of the neat things about this process is getting little presents like that in my inbox.

We’ve also pondered how to show off our guns on the wall. Darcy and I both like subtle. But we’ve discovered that one (or two) person’s subtle is another’s what the hell are you talking about?

So we ponder. We want it organic, natural to the story, not some sort of neon: LOOK HERE! GUN ON WALL! I emailed Darcy the eloquent: Some readers really need a lot of “stuff.” I know we don’t need a lot of “stuff,” but for readers who do, they really need it.

I should write my own craft book. I can call it: Writing Stuff.

Anyway, I think we’ll have our stuff together in the next few weeks. Then maybe I’ll update the blog a bit more (I say that, but watch, I’ll be back tomorrow).

Until then, watch out for guns on the wall–and keep all your stuff together.


Filed under Writing

5 responses to “Promises in the dark

  1. heh…there was another Russian author who used this gun-on-the-wall thing…not able to recall his name though! 😦

  2. Very well explained, with the gun-on-the-wall metaphor. And it is true, too. Promising something, and then not giving it is the worst thing an author can do (unless there’s a point to it, and in that way the promise is actually still kept).

    I follow you on your problem on subtlety. It’s a very difficult thing to handle. When is it “enough”? The last thing we want is to overdo something, so it becomes corny. But in our fear of making it too obvious, we risk making it too cryptic to ever be understood by the reader. It can be immensely difficult to know how the reader will actually read what’s been written. I guess the best way to get an idea of it, is to get some reliable (and impartial!) persons to read it, and then explain how they understood it and what their feelings were when they read it.

  3. You know, if this were a guy story, showing off the guns would be easy: look at this one! isn’t it big! isn’t it strong! So powerful!

    Or maybe you know different kinds of guys….

    And, in any case, I know you’re not writing a guy story. Good luck with finding subtlety.

  4. Or good luck with finding unsubtlety. I think one thing you have going for both of you is that you always think your readers are going to be smart. And I think that’s a good thing.

    I’m glad you’re enjoying your presents. 😉

  5. Darcy

    I saw a guy in the pizza shop the other day. He had a sleeveless shirt on. It said Gun Show, then had two arrows slanting down and out. I didn’t get it until I was almost out the door. He was talking about his muscles! Y’know? Guns? ‘Cept they were a little subtle too ;^)

    I hope we get this right.

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