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Chekhov’s gun, or tying up loose ends by Nell Iris

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I’m Nell Iris and I’m a new author. My debut short story Unconditionally was released on March 4th. In this post I want to talk to you about guns, reviews, and troubled relationships with mothers.

I can almost hear you gasp. How on earth is she going to fit all that in 1500 words or less? Excellent question, so I’d better get to it.

One of the first writing tips I can remember reading was Chekhov’s gun. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a dramatic principle that states that every detail in a story must be necessary, don’t pack your story full of gratuitous elements that don’t advance the narrative. The quote is as follows: “If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don’t put it there.” (There are variations of the quote, Chekhov was very fond of the principle and wrote about it several times.)

What it means to me is: don’t leave loose ends.

It’s a great principle and most of the time I agree with it. One example when I definitely did, was when I read The Colorado Kid by Stephen King.

And before I tell you why, here’s a warning: there will be spoilers. So if you plan on reading the book and hate spoilers, just skip the next paragraph and you’ll be fine. Okay?

 The Colorado Kid was a great, but at the same time, an awful book. It had interesting characters and an intriguing mystery, but—and here’s the big but—absolutely no resolution. All I was left with was unanswered questions and loose ends. I was so frustrated after I finished it, I literally pulled my hair and screamed so loud my husband came running and asked if I was hurt. Clearly, someone needs to tell Stephen King about Chekhov’s gun!

(Coast is clear, spoiler-avoiders!)

But recently I read a book by a dear author friend of mine, Addison Albright. We critique and beta read each other’s work and I trust her opinion implicitly. When I read a book that she’d written before we started working together, she wanted to know what I thought about it. And I told her about one thing that didn’t sit right with me, about one specific loose end that was tied up a little too neatly.

The premise of her story, ‘Til Death Do Us Part, is that the main character is stranded on a desert island for years, together with a few other people. It’s a part of the ocean where there’s very little traffic, they never see any boats or planes the whole time they’re there. After some time has passed they build a raft and send it out with a cry for help. The raft is eventually discovered, even if it doesn’t lead to their rescue, and in the end of the book, the people that saw the raft realize that if they hadn’t ignored it, the stranded characters could have been rescued years earlier.

My argument was that it was a little too perfect. She argued that readers don’t like loose ends.

It got me thinking. She was absolutely right; readers don’t like loose ends. I know I don’t. Authors shouldn’t leave things unresolved, unless we plan on writing a cliff-hanger (please, don’t write cliff-hangers, I detest them!) and a sequel.

So why didn’t I agree with her? Why did it annoy me that the raft was discovered?

I think it’s because, in the real world, the raft would most likely never be found. In a vast ocean with very little traffic, it would probably perish without anyone ever laying eyes on it again. They built it with materials they found on the island, they didn’t have tools at their disposal, and it wasn’t the sturdiest of crafts. If it got caught in a storm, it would inevitably have been crushed by large waves.

If I’d finished her novel and the destiny of the raft had been left a mystery, I wouldn’t have felt cheated. To be honest I didn’t expect to hear from it again after they sent it out.

So while I’d wave Chekhov’s gun (in a totally peaceful, just to remind him it’s there, kind-of-way) at Stephen King and demand he rewrite The Colorado Kid with a proper ending, I’d tell my writer friend it was okay to leave it on the wall.

Where am I going with this, you might wonder?

After the release of my book, several lovely people took the time to write a review (thank you, you are the best!), and some of them pointed out my version of Chekhov’s gun. One loose end I didn’t tie up.

But to be honest, I did that on purpose.

One of my main characters, Luca, has had a very troubled relationship with his mother for a long time. She didn’t take it well when she found out that he was gay and for years they didn’t speak. Slowly, they’ve rebuilt their relationship until they are on speaking terms again, but on Luca’s wedding day, things go straight to hell. She says mean things that upsets Luca, and he ends up running away from his fiancé and the wedding.

Since my book is a romance, I’m sure you all realize that it ends with a HEA. Luca marries his beloved Gus, and they ride off into the sunset together (sort of). But one thing isn’t resolved: the relationship between Luca and his mother. It’s still up in the air at the end of the book, and that bothered some readers.

To be honest, I’m not surprised. Two trusted betas read it prior to its release, and one of them was unhappy about it, just like some reviewers. I considered her argument carefully and I asked my other beta about her opinion on the matter.

In the end, they disagreed: one of them was okay with the way I left the relationship, the other one wasn’t. So I had to go with my gut. And my gut told me that not everything in life is resolved, that fixing a relationship that had been problematic for years would have felt unrealistic to me, considering my story is only a short glimpse into the characters’ lives.

Another thing to consider: if I had fixed their relationship, I’m sure there would have been readers who wouldn’t have liked it. Who would have thought it was too perfectly wrapped up, like me with the raft. Just like there would have been readers questioning the fate of the raft in ‘Til Death Do Us Part if it hadn’t been disclosed.

I took a chance and I understand that not everyone agrees with my choice. I understand why some people think that Luca’s mother is the gun that Chekhov hung on the stage wall that never got fired. But I decided I was fine with that.

It also makes me wonder what I would have thought if I’d read the story and someone else had written it. Would I have been okay with the way things turn out, or would I have been unsatisfied and put down my e-reader with a frown on my face?

What do you think? Do you want every loose end neatly tied up at the end of a story, or are you okay with the occasional raft disappearing out at sea?

If you want to make up your own mind about Luca and his relationship with his mother, Unconditionally is available for free on Kindle Unlimited.


Flamboyant book café owner Luca Moretti and geeky doctor Gus Hansen have been together for six years when the Supreme Court ruling makes same-sex marriage legal in all states. On June 26, 2015, Gus gets down on one knee and Luca screams yes.

On their wedding day, shortly before the ceremony, Luca’s mother explodes in anger, calling him a freak. The reason? He’s wearing a white veil, sprinkled with crystals.

Their relationship has been strained for a long time, and her words trigger traumatic memories. Instead of walking down the aisle, Luca runs.

Away from his mother. Away from Gus.

Gus counts down the minutes when Luca’s mother comes knocking. He realizes something’s wrong, but when he goes to talk to Luca, his husband-to-be is nowhere to be found.

Can Gus find Luca in time and manage to convince him to come back and get married?

About the Author

Nell Iris is a romantic who believes everyone deserves a happy ending. She’s a bona fide bookworm, wouldn’t go anywhere without something to read, loves music, and is a real Star Trek nerd. She loves words, wine, and Sudoku, and adores elephants!

Nell believes passionately in equality for all regardless of race, gender or sexuality, and wants to make the world a better place.

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